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Extracting new worth from Asia’s agrifood waste streams

June 3, 2022

Vandana Dhaul is chief operating officer at ID Capital, Singapore. 

The views expressed in this guest commentary are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of AFN.


The days of more than one third of Asia’s food getting lost and wasted have to be consigned to the rubbish heap of history – and fast. It is not just a humanitarian duty; it is also good business practice, as much of this waste holds huge stores of underutilized value just waiting to be unlocked.

The financial incentives for unlocking the value of food waste are stacking up – not just in Asia, but globally. According to the UN, the global toll of food waste comes to a shocking $2.6 trillion per year. These costs are hammering Asian economies at all levels of development. And the carbon incentives are mounting too. Food wastage is intricately tied in with carbon footprints; and this is where there is a massive white space for better practices in both industrialized, and emerging market, Asia.

From the top down, there is clear guidance from UN-led Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) like SDG 12.3 on halving food waste by 2030. Yet these are far from the limit of what’s possible for companies.

Interwoven in pledges to be carbon neutral by 2030 is an awakening to the inherent value of previously underutilized side streams. Whether it’s from spent grain, banana stems, coconut husks, or wonky mangoes, food producers and processors are drawing inspiration from Asia’s fledgling upcycling movement and the rising sway of circular-economy thinking.

The upcycling certification movement may be in its early days in Asia; but the continent has a rich tradition of (and world-leading capacity for) using techniques like fermentation. An impending uptick in consumers coming to value upcycled products is not to be ruled out; especially when combined with Asia’s rising appetite for alternative protein sources.

Corporate commitments, policy drive record $1.9 billion funding for food waste solutions – read more here

More needs to be done to reduce food waste pre-harvest, at the retail level, or in the household. However, the vast volume of food wasted either as agriculture residues or waste streams from industrial processing presents a particularly massive opportunity for valorization – and especially in Asia (see chart above).

This is the theme explored in a new whitepaper, ‘The Future of Food Upcycling in Asia,’ published by ID Capital in partnership with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology & Research, Bühler Group, and Dole Sunshine Company.

The paper, which will be released at next week’s Future Food Asia 2022 conference, focuses on extracting new worth from Asia’s agrifood waste streams. Besides volumes, we see other pivotal advantages justifying our point of focus:

  • Unlike at the household level in most of Asia, there are far fewer waste collection bottlenecks at the agri-industrial level;
  • Food waste from agri-industrial facilities have more ready possibilities to be rapidly collected, stored, and processed;
  • Investors, policy makers, and corporations eying ‘circular solutions’ for agri-industrial food valorization stand to make major gains

More homogeneous, and hence more conducive to scalable innovation, these waste streams are fuelling fresh waves of innovation – ranging from automated insect waste digestion right through to energy-efficient drying technologies.

These sorts of breakthroughs and pilot schemes are coalescing with a growing appetite for policy action from Asian corporates, investors, governments, and startups. Previously relaxed regulatory frameworks are tightening in some countries across the region. Operational and business model-related hurdles can be significant, and call for multi-stakeholder collaborations to address one of the most significant opportunities of our food system.

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