Recently, Muslims across the globe celebrated Ramadhan – a holy month, during which they abstain from food and water during the day. Followers of Islam undergo this month-long fast in the honour of the less fortunate who are deprived of the basic requirements of life like food and water. Unfortunately, many such less fortunate live across different parts of Southeast Asia where, despite economic growth and technological advancements, poverty is still very much a problem. And, that is not the saddest part of the story.
According to a study conducted by the World Health Organisation, United Nations Children’s Fund and World Bank Group, approximately half of all overweight as well as stunted children and over two-thirds of wasted children live in the Southeast Asian region. And the most frustrating irony is the huge amount of food being wasted here at the same time.
Furthermore, the 2018 report by the Global Hunger Organisation reveals that hunger still prevails in Southeast Asia. While countries like Thailand ranking far behind at 44th, Malaysia at 57th and Vietnam at 64th positions were declared “moderately hungry” out of the 119 countries surveyed for the global hunger index; the likes of Laos and Cambodia came out as “seriously hungry” nations.
It is almost oxymoronic that on the one hand, we talk about the emerging tech startups, unicorns and decacorns on the rise in the region while on the other, people are still facing one of the most primitive challenges of mankind – hunger. But all is not lost because there are some tech startups that are trying to find innovative ways to reduce and prevent food wastage in the region.
The vision statement of Singapore-based startup UglyFood says “to be the leading go-to company well-known for reducing food wastage in the supply chain”. The founder, an SUTD-SMU Double Degree Programme graduate, Pei Shan found the inspiration when her grandmother was ill with cancer. She started reading more about healthier food choices when she stumbled upon a video about food wastage on social media. Upon research, her team found out that in the insta-worthy age, food that is not “cosmetically” attractive is wasted more. Shoppers don’t want to sell it and buyers don’t want it on their tables.
Good For Food, Singapore
Another Singaporean startup working towards the cause of food waste management is Good For Food that uses technology to track food wastage. Founded in March 2017, this startup uses artificial intelligence and data analytics to help businesses reduce food waste and lower costs.
Their first product is a “smart dustbin” called ‘InSight’ that uses big data and machine learning to track the types and quantities of disposed of food being. Every time food is discarded, Insight’s smart sensors and camera weigh as well as identify the waste. A report of the analysis is then developed by Good For Food team. This information is then used to guide businesses on purchasing and production decisions.
With objectives to harness the power of technology to empower restaurants and kitchens, Good For Food claims to reduce food wastage by 30% and food costs by 8%.
Grub Cycle, Malaysia
In 2017 alone, over 15,000 tonnes of food was wasted in Malaysia on a daily basis, of which around 3000 tonnes was actually edible and could have easily fed more than 2 million people three meals a day.
A social enterprise that aims to reinstitute the lost value and respect for food as something that should never be thrown away but preserved and shared, Malaysia-based Grub Cycle was founded in 2016. The objective of this startup is to raise awareness about food wastage and its implications while making surplus food accessible to people at bargain rates.
The Grub Cycle app known as Grub Bites allows registered users to buy food from a selection of listed restaurants at bargained prices. This enables restaurants and cafes to sell off the over-produced food, reducing wastage, and increasing revenue while allowing buyers to purchase food at cheaper costs- a win-win situation for all.
Garda Pangan, Indonesia
According to a study, Indonesia is the world’s second-largest food waster with every citizen disposing of around 300 kilograms of food every year. Another study reveals that more than 7.5% of the Indonesia population suffers from malnutrition. Food wastage is a global challenge but it becomes particularly sensitive in a country like Indonesia where millions of people are still fighting hunger and living the life of deprivation.
Garda Pangan, a Surabaya-based startup and social enterprise is focusing on addressing this issue with two main objectives- the eradication of food wastage and human relief by the elimination of the struggles of hunger. Garda Pangan rescues food from the hospitality industry and serves it to those in need. They have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to determine the quality of procured excess food. The usable portion is distributed to poor families while the expired portion is sent to farms where it is processed to make animal feed or compost.
It is a matter of grave concern that despite the technological advancements and high living standards in the region, many people are still devoid of something as basic as food for every mouth. These startups that are using the latest technologies like AI, machine learning and data analytics to aid this cause are definitely an encouraging start to the journey towards the permanent elimination of hunger. It would be interesting to see how the region reacts to the food waste management sector of startups in terms of reception, investments, growth and scalability.
This piece first appeared on Tech Collective.