With over 12 million reported cases of COVID-19 and an economy that has contracted by more than 20 percent, India has been deeply affected by the pandemic. Studies indicate that 77 percent of households nationwide are consuming less food than before the pandemic and 66 percent have lost employment. For India’s 400 million daily wage workers, that number is closer to 100 percent.
Across India, The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is supporting visionary leaders who are working to combat these challenges with sustainable, long-term solutions to ending hunger. Among them is Padmanaban Gopalan, founder of No Food Waste.
In 2014, 21-year-old recent engineering graduate Padmanaban Gopalan saw an opportunity to address hunger for the 200 million food insecure people in India by connecting local food surplus with local need. Like any good entrepreneur, he set out to prove his concept.
“Within two hours and with just 11 rupees, I was able to recover 52 plates of food from a housewarming function and feed people in the public pregnant wards of a government hospital,” recalls Padmanaban. Everything changed from there.
In 2019, No Food Waste served over one million people with untouched surplus food secured from hotels, weddings, and restaurants—food that otherwise would have gone into a landfill. But when COVID-19 hit, and the government of India enforced a nationwide lockdown, surplus food sources vanished overnight. Padmanaban needed a new strategy.
On March 25, 2020 (the first day of India’s lockdown), No Food Waste formed a COVID Emergency Food Response Team (CEFRT) in each of its 11 chapters. GFN was there to help.
Photo: No Food Waste India
“With the support of GFN and other local community partners, we were able to source various raw materials from leading corporate donors to prepare enough meals for half a million laborers and daily wage earners,” recalls Padmanaban. “We also assembled Family Ration Kits comprised of 21 different dry ration items, including rice, wheat, salt, sugar, dhal, etc., to support a family of four with enough food for four weeks. In our first month, we distributed kits to more than 48,500 families across eight different cities.”
During the first month of the pandemic, No Food Waste served 1.2 million meals directly to those in need—nearly fifteen times its normal operations. But as the pandemic wore on and levels of need continued to grow, Padmanaban and his team recognized that they needed to take the long view of this crisis.
For India’s growing number of marginally employed people in need of food, No Food Waste has devised a subsidized meal program, making it possible for workers and families to obtain nutritious, highly affordable meals. “This program will act as a key supporting factor in addressing the daily need for low cost food amongst those struggling to manage their day to day livelihood expenses,” explains Padmanaban. “It’s a path out of hunger and its consequences.”
Padmanaban plans to scale the program to four new cities by December 2021. By reinvesting locally generated revenues, he anticipates that most of the subsidized meal programs—which will serve a minimum of 50,000 meals per day in each city, equivalent to six million total meals per month—will quickly be self-sustaining. They will also offer new employment opportunities for women and youth.
Since the start of the pandemic, No Food Waste’s capacity has grown by 300%, including 4.4 million meals to those affected by recent lockdowns. But that is just the beginning.
“We plan to expand all our programs to 15 new rapidly growing cities in the next two years,” projects Padmanaban. “GFN’s support will continue to be instrumental to achieving our goal of providing nutritious meals with dignity to all. It’s all part of our vision for the future—for No Food Waste, and for our country.”