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Nepal’s glaring food gap

In a recent panel examining the food crisis in Nepal, environmental scientist Uttam Babu Shrestha said that up to 40% of vegetables are wasted daily during their transport and handling.

“Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence pointing to a large degree of food waste in transit and households, there has been no comprehensive study done in Nepal examining food waste post-harvest,” added Shrestha.

A study in January of 2014 surveyed wholesalers and retailers to determine the primary cause of food waste in shops. Many of the respondents said it was because they did not have refrigeration facilities to extend the shelf life of farm produce. Others said poor handling and packaging contributed to food waste.

Food is generally to be packed in polythene bags which are significantly cheaper than crates, the expensive alternative that is the industry standard for protecting produce. The use of polythene bags, paired with tightly packed produce with minimal airflow in a vehicle on uneven roads, leads to a significant waste of produce even before it reaches market.

Food waste at home can easily be minimised, but the extent of the problem is much larger in hotels and restaurants. Nabin Bikash Maharjan of the company Blue Waste to Value has been working with clients like Hotel Yak and Yeti and Hyatt Regency and has seen first-hand the amount of food waste establishments like that generate.

“Before the pandemic, we used to get some 1.5 tons of waste from one single 5-star hotel in a day, 60% of which would be food. In large part, this waste is from banquets and events they host,” says Maharjan.

Blue Waste to Value turns the food waste into animal feed, and the rest for organic composting. Most larger hotels and restaurants in Kathmandu now have similar tie-ups with pig farms.

Actually, an average Nepali household produces much less food waste. Blue Waste to Value found that only about 20% of the waste generated in private homes is food. Even so, a study by the Solid Waste Management Technical Support Centre (SWMTSC) estimated that in Nepal, 65% of household waste is organic which means it can be turned into compost instead of being dumped in landfill sites.

Food waste is adding to Kathmandu’s growing problem of solid waste management. The capital’s only landfill in Nuwakot’s Sisdole has already reached its maximum capacity, and every monsoon the rains damage the access road to the site obstructing the movement of garbage trucks.

Some 1,000 tons of solid waste is dumped at Sisdole every day, 60% of which is organic. Almost all of the waste remains unsegregated and adds to the pollution, further worsening the health of the people.

Says Pankaj Panjiyar of Doko: “Food waste at home can be largely reduced if all of us practice in-house waste segregation and composting, this in time will help with our overflowing landfill.”

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