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Researchers have found that the majority of South/Southeast Asian food waste happens in the storage and transportation stage, rather than during consumption

Gillie Houston
January 20, 2017

Despite wide-spread poverty and starvation in South Asia, the food waste epidemic that has swept the globe still impacts the region's most in-need citizens, with a large portion of food being lost every year. However, according researchers at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, this food waste could be significantly reduced with the help of one ancient storage device.

Evaporative cooling was a method used by the world's most ancient societies to keep food fresh longer. "Egyptian, Roman, and Persian societies used the idea to store food by simply resting two terracotta pots, one over the other, and filling the space in-between with sand and water. As water evaporates from the sand, it removes the heat thus keeping the pot above, where food is kept, at cooler temperatures," researchers Tamara Nair and Christopher Lim explain.

These cooler temperatures are key for the storage of food, as reliable means of refrigeration are harder to come by in many areas of southern Asian. The researchers note that the majority of South/Southeast Asian food waste happens in the storage and transportation stage, rather than during consumption. In India alone, up to 40 percent of fruit and vegetable output is wasted due to poor refrigeration.

"Some of the causes for wastage include out-dated or bad agricultural practices, poor roads and infrastructure, including the lack of cold storage and refrigerated trucks," the researchers wrote. And that's where the ancient terra cotta technology comes in.

According to CNBC, a contemporary take on the age-old evaporative cooling method is the Evaptainer, an affordable and lightweight food storage device designed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The box-like Evaptainer can cool produce by 30 degrees Celsius using any water source.

According to the creators of Evaptainer, which has been successfully tested in communities in Morocco, the device helped rural, low-income families save over five percent of monthly incomes that previously went towards spoiled food.

Nair and Lim hope to create a similar mechanism to be distributed and widely used in rural Southeast Asia. The best means for this distribution, the researchers suggest, would be a governmental fund that would help supply farmers with storage vessels similar to the Evaptainer for a low cost.

Not only would this ancient technology help struggling communities make the most of their agricultural yields, but it would also promote sustainable energy and relieve the political pressure to rapidly extend electricity supply to remote areas. And, as is the case globally, any step to alleviate food waste is a step in the right direction.