This post is the second in a series sharing findings from a research project Sam Kornstein and Paul Artiuch are working on throughout the month of January. Paul Artiuch and Samuel Kornstein are graduate students at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Throughout the month of January they are in India researching market-oriented approaches to reducing agricultural food waste.
Part I can be accessed here: Battling Food Waste in India.
By Samuel Kornstein and Paul Artiuch
Note: This post and the accompanying photographs were originally published on the MIT Public Service Center website and subsequently reproduced on Sam Kornstein’s personal blog somethingsbrewing.com. We are greatful to Sam and Paul for sharing their experience and research project with InPEC. All photographs included in these series are courtesy of Sam Kornstein.
January 10, 2012
Soon after arriving in Delhi, we took a walk over to a local market and spoke with a man who runs the community produce stand. We asked him where he buys his fruits and vegetables. “I take my truck to Azadpur Mandi every day at five in the morning,” he said. “Is that where all of Delhi’s markets get their produce?” we responded. “Just about, except for the government-run shops.” We probed a bit more about seasonality, food waste, and prices, but found that his operation is fairly simple, and nearly nothing gets wasted at the retail level. Even if food becomes damaged someone in the community finds a use for it.
Azadpur Mandi turns out to be the largest wholesale produce market in all of Asia. Covering 80 acres in North Delhi, it not only supplies the city and its surrounding communities with fresh produce but also serves as a hub for the rest of India. We took a ride over to Azadpur at the break of dawn the following day, and walked around for a few hours talking to traders, truck drivers and storage managers. There were colorful trucks being unloaded everywhere, stacks of vegetables in bags being stored under tin roofs, and thousands of traders, commission agents, storage vendors and buyers haggling over quality and prices. It was chaotic, and messy, but it all seemed to work even though Azadpur Mandi is significantly over capacity.
We asked people where their produce had come from and found peppers that had traveled 24 hours from Gujarat, chilies that had been hauled for 17 hours from U.P., and onions that were grown only a few hours away. In short, Azadpur Mandi is an aggregation point for produce grown in virtually every corner of India.
Despite its dilapidated appearance, and with thousands of tons of produce moving through it each day, the market was remarkably efficient with minimal edible food waste. The highest quality goods get sold to high end markets, restaurants, or are exported. Medium grade items make their way to markets in less affluent areas. Finally damaged or irregular produce, even if discarded by larger traders, is picked through and sold in push carts on the street. The whole system works quickly enough that it’s rare for food to spoil once it arrives at Azadpur.
There was however quite a bit of inedible food waste generated by the estimated 12,000 tons of produce that moves through the market every day. Once produce shipments are received, leaves, husks, and clippings are typically removed before the items are sold. The approximately 2 000 tons of waste need to be moved from the market daily to make room for new produce to come in. The market operator, a government agency, loads it onto carts and dump the waste into sectioned off enclosures, where cows and dogs pick at it until dump trucks come twice daily to haul the waste off to the city dump.
Here we saw an opportunity. Organic waste can be converted into compost and bio-gas, useful commodities, using a process known as bio-digestion. This is often done on a small scale in villages, and has been successfully completed on a commercial scale in many places around the world, including by the Massachusetts based company Harvest Power. To do this commercially, you need a large, reliable, and constant supply of organic feedstock – exactly what we saw in Azadpur Mandi.
While we found untapped value in the form of an agricultural waste stream, value that could be recognized by communities surrounding wholesale markets, we still haven’t observed the massive quantities of edible food waste that is known to be present along the supply chain. In a few days we’ll be traveling outside the city to some rural parts of Punjab. We’ll be speaking with farmers, traders and logistics companies to see what happens between the field and the arrival of produce at wholesale markets such as Azadpur Mandi.