How Thailand’s Ban Lao community is curbing food loss
Packed with micronutrients and vitamins, the germinated brown rice produced by the Ban Lao community-run enterprise in Sakon Nakhon province of northeastern Thailand has long been popular with health-conscious consumers. Getting its production to turn out right used to be a tricky business, however. The processing of this speciality rice product involves soaking and fermentation or germination overnight, followed by steaming to cook the grain before drying it.
“If we dried the rice too little, the rice would have mould. If we dried it too long, it would be broken during the milling process so we would get less rice as a result,” says Natakarn Dakawong, President of the Brown Rice Ban Lao Community Regeneration Group.
But all that’s changed thanks to a project aimed at reducing food loss in the processing and distribution of micro-, small- and medium-sized food producers (MSMEs) and cutting food waste in their retail operations. Funded by the Government of Japan, the project was formulated and supervised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It was implemented with the Thai government, with technical support from the country’s Mahidol University.
Using items of simple technology provided by the project, such as a moisture meter to monitor the drying process and a digital thermometer, the community was able to reduce losses in processing and improve the quality of the final product. They also cut down losses in transit by using a vacuum sealing machine and transporting the packaged rice in shallow plastic crates. All these measures have helped to lengthen the product’s shelf-life, reduce waste in retail and ensure compliance with Thai regulations and standards.
Making these changes means more rice of better quality going to the customers and more money in the community members’ pockets. With a production capacity of 1 500 kilograms per month and an estimated 450 kilograms of loss eliminated, that adds up to savings of approximately USD 1 000 (THB 36 000) in total income.
And this is just one example out of 25 Thai MSMEs that the project supported in five sectors – animal products, dairy, fishery, rice products and snack foods.
Lessons learned in food loss
Common underlying causes of food loss were poor quality of raw material, failure to properly manage processing operations (in terms of temperature, pH, moisture content and time) and inadequate packaging and sealing of finished products.
With 91 per cent of agrifood businesses operated by MSMEs in Southeast Asia, the role of such enterprises is absolutely crucial.
But how good are they at learning the lessons of reducing food loss in their operations?
“Micro, small and medium enterprises have their own local wisdom that is very helpful in identifying the improved measures. They know their own problems and limitations and are willing to work to improve the efficiency of their operations,” says Nattapol Tangsuphoom, FAO National Lead on the project.
Addressing these food loss hotspots “doesn’t take a lot,” says FAO Food Loss and Waste team leader, Rosa Rolle. “You can make a tremendous difference with simple items of equipment which turn out to be innovations for people who have never had the opportunity to use them.”
Such changes not only help to improve the quality of the product, boost incomes and reduce food losses, but can also make a positive contribution by using the by-products to compost fields or feed animals.
The Thai government has had a particularly proactive focus on reducing food losses in the rice sector by equipping the cooperative with a solar dryer to improve the efficiency of its drying operations. As Vanida Khumnirdpetch of Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives puts it, “At the end of the day everybody has to take part in the way that best suits their capabilities, and then we can achieve it together.”
This highlights an opportunity for more countries to follow. “Reducing food loss and waste plays a key role in transforming agrifood systems, toward improving food security and nutrition,” says Rolle.
“We always advocate for governments do more in terms of developing policies and providing an enabling environment to support the reduction of food losses. Tackling food loss in an industry largely made up of MSMEs is critical as they are such an important source of food for their populations,” concludes Rolle.
FAO said it is in the process of finalizing a multi-lingual, training manual and online course to help reduce food loss and waste in the processing, distribution and retail operations of MSMEs. A few hundred kilos of rice saved every month in just one enterprise shows the huge potential that such actions can have on a global scale. FAO is seeking to scale up these actions among MSMEs in other countries worldwide.
Source: the FAO News and Media office, Rome
– global bihari bureau