Annakshetra Foundation Trust’s initiative-‘Zero Food Wastage’ mobilises the community to feed 1.3 million people with Surplus Food

Digital Empowerment Foundation in conversation with Ravi Dhingra on behalf of Annakshetra Foundation Trust

What was the motivation behind starting the initiative?

Very fine morning in the winters of 2010 when Dr Vivek Agrawal, MD of Annakshetra,  was going for his morning walk, he saw young children sitting next to a garbage dump (which was outside a marriage hall) and segregating eatables from it. The food, whose composition which the privileged were enjoying a couple of hours though was same, but its condition, state and audience had changed. What a pity and value of cooked food is so different when it changes hand.

It was realised and thought about what exactly can be the solution. The surplus food, which if collected before it is thrown away to bins and diverted to these poor hands, may be then this wastage could be stopped and few more mouths fed. This is how Annakshetra was born and came into picture.

Annakshetra Foundation is a unique initiative and established with the aim to minimise food wastage through effective channelisation of the excess food leftover in lavish weddings, parties, restaurants and temples. The process involves collection of the excess food from the site, storage and testing of the food and thereafter distribution to people at the bottom of pyramid (laborers, waste workers, etc.), if the food is found fit for human consumption. The Annakshetra program aims at bridging the gap between wastage of surplus food and those who need it by serving the leftover food. It addresses the need to move towards zero waste economy and works to ensure poverty eradication, food security and sustainable cities. Its philosophy is that each grain of food that has been cooked should be served to satisfy the hunger of needy people.

What were the challenges you came across?

The major challenge was involving the COMMUNITY as it is a people’s program where each citizen was to act as “Anna-Doot” and generate community awareness through effective channelisation of excess food collected from donors and delivered to the needy. Annakshetra wanted to sensitise the community on the issue and generate awareness towards food wastage. The project was required to motivate people to come forward and support the movement. The participation from all parts and legs of community that it receives now is tremendous. It helps to address hunger and to bridge the gap between main stream of the society and marginalised section through active community participation. Annakshetra work and its efforts to involve the community has proved its experiences of developing and delivering food waste programs that have achieved significant measurable impact. One of these is that with their involvement more than 1.3 Million hungry mouths till date have been provided food. Food retailers, restaurants, food service providers, marriage gardens and food and drink manufacturers are signed up to voluntary targets to reduce food waste.

Another challenge faced was to have clear defined strategy as to how the work we are performing can be made sustainable, scalable and replicable. As government plans to deploy environmental friendly MSW management system early, this control of food wastage by Annakshetra will boost its mission tremendously. It directly covers the entire chain of MSW management – collection, transfer, separation, recycling, resource recovery and disposal of solid waste.

How are you planning to scale it up?

No matter how much noise we make about the economic development in India, we can never deny the fact that India also hosts one of the biggest armies of starving people in the world.  Annakshetra has stepped up its efforts and is playing its role a little carefully and meticulously in ensuring that this food instead of going to bins, is redirected into the empty stomach of those who cannot afford to fill theirs. It is the first organisations in India, which has taken up an initiative towards “Zero Food Wastage.” Its motive is that high priority should be given to reducing and controlling food wastage and during marriages in particular. Various measures and means like poster campaigns, presentations in educational institutes, road shows, media campaigns etc are being employed by Annakshetra to sell the concept of zero food wastage. As of now Annakshetra is fully functional in Jaipur, but other cities are replicating its model on a high note. Allahabad started Annakshetra on 22 Apr. Teams from Surat, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Gurgaon, Bangalore and Nagpur had physically visited Annakshetra Jaipur and had firsthand information on its style of functioning.

Also provision of one time meal to the poor people will indirectly help them in saving few rupees. Incase more persons of his family come and enjoy this food, then the saving get multiplied. This saved money he can use in other things – education of his children, repair of his house, buying basics etc. The marriage food in particular is rich in calories. This food once taken by poor people pumps lot of calories into his/her body which one cannot afford. This calorific food will help an individual in performing hard tasks and fight against basic diseases.

What does winning SM4E Awards mean to you, and how will you leverage it?

Winning SM4E means – taking an approach that hasn’t been taken before; having the vision to see things differently and putting that vision into action. This particular award is born out of a passion to deliver and address something different, unique and something that also awakens others’ inspiration and interest. After seeing Annakshetra as winner, a number of individuals, business houses and institutions have come forward sharing their thoughts and views on the working model of Annakshetra. It is sure that their thoughts will have concrete, practical results and will have a positive impact on the mission. It will prove to be a successful change and will convert knowledge and ideas into benefits. It is not going to be ground breaking, but a solution that will give different perspective and will open everyone’s eyes. Basically it has highlighted ‘one more thing’, underlining how simple it can be for individuals to make small changes in their habits in order to reduce their impact even on the environment by minimising landfill waste. Changing just one habit in a daily routine or reusing ‘one more thing’ that might otherwise become an item in domestic rubbish, can make a significant impact when collective action is taken and adopted by a wide group.

How did you arrive at the technology you used for the project?

The mobile solution was created out of the need assessment within the community. It was based upon an analysis of the problem which was to be resolved, the service that was required to be established and assessment of what was needed to make the services possible. Aim was to collect maximum surplus food and give firsthand information to the donors on how the food they donated was being used. Also it was desired to get the collection data in a simple and concise way. Getting the information how the food donated was utilized within hours of its donation, got the donors closer to the Annakshetra as the result was available to them immediately and confidence was built wherein they realized that their donation is being used in the right way and reaching right people.  This proved to be a wonderful idea that has resonated greatly with people. It has been appealing with masses – for being such an accessible and tangible way of combatting food waste. By incorporating mobile solution in the food-waste awareness and habits, Annakshetra is truly trying to make a small meaningful adjustments in our daily wastage and eating. It is making an attempt to implement small changes that will make a big difference in the amount of food we throw away each year. The resources we conserve today will help feed our great-grandchildren, who may find themselves with a different set of problems than “too much food”.

What are the learning’s you would like to share with us?

Annakshetra isn’t charity. It’s about making use of food that would otherwise end up nowhere. It doesn’t matter who takes or eats it. At the end of the day it’s about recovering the value of food products and fighting against waste. It is to collect maximum consumable leftover surplus food. It is making an attempt to implement small changes that will make a big difference in the amount of food we throw away each year.
We found that ideally all waste should follow “waste management hierarchy” in which reduction is better than reuse and reuse is better than recycling or composting, and all of them are better than disposal. While the reduction of food waste that could have been eaten, for example by making better use of leftover items, is an obvious target for us, there are also opportunities to improve the way we handle the unavoidable waste when it comes to getting rid of it. So the scale of the problem is clear. So are the main causes. We cook for much more than expected in our functions especially marriages. We throw away more food than packaging; we buy too much food and we shop without a list; we set our fridges at too high a temperature so food goes off too quickly; and, not surprisingly, too many of us end up throwing food away because it has passed its ‘use by’ date. Why do we waste so much food?