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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

The State of Food Loss Along Perishable Vegetable Supply Chains


This research was done in the context of tomato supply chains in Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad city, Telangana. The study aims were (1) to examine the extent, stages and determinants of food loss along tomato supply chains from farmer to retail; (2) to identify important quality attributes across supply chain actors and the relationships between quality metrics, both subjective and objective; and (3) to critically compare institutional food loss and waste (FL&W) definitional frameworks used with a collective smallholder vegetable farmer definitional framework. Food loss surveys of were carried out across 75 smallholder farm households, 83 tomato traders, 52 vegetable traders and 50 vegetable retailers from February 2019 to March 2020. Data on tomato production and harvest (at the farm level), post-harvest and marketing, tomato quality, food loss, food quality loss, and demographics were collected. Tomato ascorbic acid concentrations were measured from tomatoes collected at harvest and wholesale market stages, for comparison with survey food quality data. Pile sort group discussions and focus group discussions with farmers contributed valuable insights into farmer decision-making processes with regard to production, harvest, post-harvest and marketing of tomatoes and other perishable vegetables. Food loss was concentrated at the farmer stage, specifically at the farm-level. Greater post-harvest, farm-level loss was significantly associated with greater pre-harvest quality loss. Harvests during peak harvest season were significantly associated with lower pre-harvest quality loss, post-harvest loss and market-level, pre-auction loss. With regard to quality, farmers make harvesting decisions based on the color/ripeness level of tomatoes. Post-harvest, tomato size and evidence of pest or physical damage become important quality indicators during grading and sorting. All other supply chain actors consider several observable quality attributes to assess tomato quality. Market grades have distinguished quality intensities within and between supply chain actors. The ascorbic acid concentration of tomatoes, a marker of nutrient quality, was significantly associated with quality intensity and tomato ripeness levels. Finally, three major gaps were identified where institutional FL&W definitional frameworks do not align with smallholder farmer frameworks. Some institutional frameworks do not count animal feed as a loss destination, they exclude the pre-harvest stage when produce is market ready from loss estimates, and they do not measure food quality loss. Taken together, findings from this research demonstrate that farm-level supply chain stages, from pre-harvest to post-harvest, are critical points where food loss of tomatoes occurs. Food loss and waste definitional frameworks are the backbone of measurement frameworks. Institutional food loss and waste frameworks that influence global, national and subnational policies should consider the overarching food loss and waste measurement and reduction objectives in the context of specific food groups and supply chain contexts.

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