What the G20 can learn from India’s approach to food banks amid an economic downturn

by Doug O’Brien Vandana Singh - 22 February, 2023, 12:00 3935 Views 0 Comment

Over the last several years, global crises have pushed food insecurity to the center of international discussions – from the G20 to COP27. Despite agreements made, hunger levels are predicted to increase from record numbers in 2022. Addressing this rising food insecurity means the G20 must take action abroad and in their own countries. India, as the G20’s host, is demonstrating that prioritizing policies to support food banks can better enable them to tackle food insecurity.

Like many countries, India faces challenges in reducing food loss and waste while ensuring those living in poverty have access to food. In India, around 40 percent of food is wasted, representing a loss of nearly $14 billion and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly 14 percent  of the country is undernourished. Though these problems are a continuous and global challenge, the country is already implementing several key policies that support the work of food banks – including members of The Global FoodBanking Network, Feeding India by Zomato, India FoodBanking Network, and No Food Waste, to better address this dual issue.

First, the country is giving food systems an important place in domestic political dialogues. Within the Constitution of India, it is even written that increasing nutrition is a key responsibility of the government. India has implemented policies for self-sufficient food production and is working to improve the agricultural outlook. At the same time, the government continues to support food insecurity reduction measures, including food banks.

More specifically, India has one of the strongest food safety policies in the G20. Well-defined regulations on food safety that provide guidelines for donated food can help ensure high-quality nutrition for those in need while removing a common barrier to donation. Going one step further, food safety laws can also promote donation as an alternative to discarding safe, wholesome food. India’s Surplus Food Regulations in 2019 provide standards for leftover and unused portions of safe food and encourage donation.

Furthermore, India is creating new campaigns to reduce waste along the food supply chain through the newly-created Indian Food Sharing Alliance. The group was developed to connect food companies, surplus food distribution organizations and those in need. Membership in the group provides access to training and capacity building to support long-term impacts. India has also enacted the Save Food, Share Food campaign which better informs businesses about food donations.

To build on these strong policies, India – and, in turn, the G20 – can implement further food-bank-positive policies to address food insecurity. For example, tax incentives help encourage businesses overcome these barriers. Donating food often entails costs for businesses, from harvesting and packaging the food to transportation. As a result, many opt to discard surplus food, which has low or no cost. By creating tax benefits, governments create a financial rationale for donating safe, surplus food instead.

One of the most generous tax incentive schemes for donors was implemented in the United States, for instance. The country’s policy offers two different types of tax deductions for donors. The first provides a general deduction of the base value of food as a charitable donation. The second is an enhanced deduction for qualified food donations that generates a benefit of up to double the basis value.

In addition to tax incentives, strong liability protections can help remove a significant barrier to donation for potential donors. A common donor concern is being held liable legally if someone becomes sick from donated food and as a result, will discard surplus food instead. This belief is a common and prevailing barrier to donation, even if there have been no notable lawsuits anywhere in the world relating to donated food.

Argentina is one of the few countries that has implemented strong policies to protect donors from potential liability. The law applies to donors and distributing organizations so long as donations were made in good faith and the food complies with national food safety standards.

This year’s G20 presidency offers India the platform to address several global issues, and with rising economic insecurity, climate change, and crisis, few are more pressing than worsening food insecurity. Food banks are key partners in addressing hunger while reducing the environmental impact of food loss and waste.

By leading the way on policies supportive of food donation – especially those overlooked by most of the G20 – India can champion the cause for more sustainable and equitable food systems worldwide.

Doug O’Brien
Doug O’Brien is Vice President, Programs, The Global FoodBanking Network
Vandana Singh
Vandana Singh is CEO, India FoodBanking Network

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