World-Watching: Small Business and Food Waste: Not a Small Problem

[from APEC News]

by Aaron Sydor

Faced with a possible food crisis, economies must work together and take action on food waste … starting at the front line with MSMEs.

Conflict, supply disruption, rising prices, and shortages are all impacting food supplies globally. Just as we are nearing some form of recovery from the pandemic, we are now facing another global challenge in the form of a food crisis – and it’s likely to get worse.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) tells us that 349 million people face acute food insecurity this year — an increase from 287 million people in 2021. It is a tragedy that when the world is “hungrier than ever,” as the WFP calls it, so much food goes to waste. One-third of food production, or 1.3 billion tons per year, goes to waste globally, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. It is inconceivable, then, that we don’t make the most of the food that we have.

This is a regional problem that cannot be solved by individual economies acting on their own. It must be looked at with a wider lens, such as through bodies, like APEC, that promote regional economic cooperation. APEC members acknowledge that all areas of the agri-food value chain are interdependent and that there is a need for a whole-system approach.

Among the forum’s efforts to reduce food waste is the Food Security Roadmap Towards 2030 which aims to establish an open, fair, transparent, productive, sustainable and resilient APEC food system. This corresponds to the UN and other multilateral goals by taking action through the following avenues: digital transformation; productivity and international trade; sustainability; public-private partnerships; and inclusivity, especially in the inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) along the agri-food value chain.

For more on this topic, download “Enhancing Green MSMEs’ Competitiveness for a Sustainable and Inclusive Asia-Pacific: Food Sector Waste Reduction in Food Supply Chain.” [Archived PDF]

In my capacity as the Chair of APEC’s Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group, I’d like to stress the importance of the latter: inclusivity and small business. MSMEs account for over 97 percent of all business in APEC economies and employ over half of the workforce. Any strategy for reducing food wastage will have to involve the wholesale participation of the region’s smaller businesses.

This is easier written than done. For one thing, fit-for-purpose data is scarce. No APEC economy has food waste data that is specific to MSMEs. And while all have policies and measures to address the problem of food waste, there are no large-scale direct MSMEfood waste reduction targets, policies or plans. Few have tried to reduce MSME food waste in the retail food and food service industries. Supermarkets, food storage facilities or warehouses in many APEC economies aren’t required to donate excesses.

Most entrepreneurs aren’t even aware of the problem, or underestimate its true cost. Those who do understand have limited options or capital, and are unable to find cost-effective solutions to create value out of food waste, and face problems with logistics and transportation. On top of this, there are few to no regulatory frameworks to guide them. From a technology perspective, a majority of APEC economies utilize modern technologies, including mobile applications, to reduce or manage MSME food waste/surplus food, but these modern technologies are used only by large companies in big cities.

Amid these challenges are an abundance of opportunities to help MSMEs reduce food waste. Training, policies and guidelines can aid them in improving profits by reducing costs and increasing the value added of food. They can reduce their carbon footprint, which enhances consumer demand, and divert waste to new products or bioenergy.

A November study by the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group presents case studies, identifies the best available data on food waste for MSMEs, and identifies several best practices for economies in dealing with food waste through MSME policy.

In one section, the study’s authors analyze a case study of a successful MSME, and identify four key factors contributing to its successful reduction of food waste: 1) creating a network of people — e.g., a community surrounding a farm; 2) using innovation and technology to facilitate farming and save time; 3) producing knowledge and providing it through several channels — e.g., a learning and training center, friendly guide books; and 4) considering the environment at every step of the process.

The paper, called “Enhancing Green MSMEs’ Competitiveness for a Sustainable and Inclusive Asia-Pacific: Food Sector Waste Reduction in Food Supply Chain,” [Archived PDF] is extensive and easily doubles as a handbook for anyone interested in MSME food waste, or the problem of food waste in general. It is a great example of what can be achieved when economies combine knowledge and resources in the pursuit of keeping the region inclusive, prosperous, and fed.

Aaron Sydor is the Chair of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group.

Countries and Deep Patternings: China

China’s High-Level Equilibrium Trap as a Concept

The Pattern of the Chinese Past
Mark Elvin
Paperback: 348 pages
Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1st edition (June 1, 1973)

The 1973 classic work in Sinology, Mark Elvin’s The Pattern of the Chinese Past gives the student an “exemplum” in the kind of scholarship that might be called “pattern-seeking.” Without such attempts, all of history becomes formless and shapeless and an endless parade of “routs and rallies,” and “crimes and follies and misfortunes” (in Edward Gibbon’s catchphrase).

Professor Elvin renders Chinese history through an economic perspective instead of using the common dynastic classification by attempting to answer three questions:

  1. What contributed to the continuity of the Chinese empire?
  2. Why was the Chinese economy the most advanced in the world from the Song dynasty (960-1279) up until the latter half of the Qing dynasty (mid-1800s)?
  3. Why did China fail to maintain her technological advantage after the mid-fourteenth century while advancing economically?

In the first section of the book, the author elucidates the staying power of the Chinese empire was due to the following factors. The economics of defense in relation to the size of empire and the power of its neighbors never became an extreme burden that it rendered the state impotent for any consecutively long period of time. It was always able to reformulate itself after a short disunity or rule by a foreign power of the whole, which only happened twice within a two thousand year period (Mongol and Manchu rule). Two other factors that contributed to the continuity of the Chinese state include a relatively isolated existence from the rest of the Eurasian landmass and the important placed on cultural unity, beginning with the first emperor’s destruction of local records in order to quell local loyalties (pp. 21-22). Both of these factors had been built up over time through a revolution in communication and transportation.

The second section of the book analyses the causes of the economic revolution that occurred between the 8th and 12th centuries and the technological growth that accompanied it. The transformation of agriculture, especially in the south, was the major impetus that fueled the economic growth of this period. This revolution in agriculture had four aspects.

  1. The preparation of soil became more effective as a result of improved or new tools and the extensive use of manure and lime as fertilizer.
  2. Seed improvements allowed for double cropping.
  3. Improvements in hydraulic techniques and irrigation networks.
  4. Specialization in crops other than basic food grains (p.118).

Improvements in transportation and communications were almost as important as agriculture in growing the economy. Water transport saw big gains and led to the golden age of geographic studies and cartography, with envoys traveling as far away as Africa. Money and credit matured during this time helping to expand the economy. Paper money made its first appearance in 1024. Improvements in science, medicine, and technology also occurred during this period. However, despite all these advancements, “this period was the climax and also the end of many preceding centuries of scientific and technical progress” (p. 179). Although the Chinese economy continued to advance from the 14th century on, albeit on a smaller scale, it was not accompanied by improvements in technology.

The last section deals with this phenomenon, describing the distinctive characteristics of this late traditional period (1300-1800), and then proceeding to point out why technological advancements did not keep pace with the growth in the economy. This period sees a rise of small market towns in the sixteenth century and a decline in contact with the non-Chinese world around the middle of the fifteenth century. Also, by the eighteenth century serfdom disappeared, aiding population growth, which had reached 400 million by the mid-1800s. Elvin interestingly points out that the highly sophisticated metaphysics that evaded Chinese intellectual thought during the Ming and Qing dynasties negated any deep scientific inquiry (p. 233). In the attempt to explain the lack of technological advancement, Elvin disputes a number of conventional explanations. Contrary to popular belief, there was enough capital during this period to finance simple technological advances, also there was minimal political obstacles to economic growth.

In short, Elvin believes “that in late traditional China economic forces developed in such a way as to make profitable invention more and more difficult. With falling surplus in agriculture, and so falling per capita income and per capita demand, with cheapening labor but increasingly expensive resources and capital, with farming and transport technologies so good that no simple improvements could be made, rational strategy for peasants and merchants alike tended in the direction not so much of labor-saving machinery as of economizing on resources and fixed capital. Huge but nearly static markets created no bottlenecks in the production system that might have prompted creativity” (p. 314). This condition is what he terms as a “high-level equilibrium trap.” The term “trap” to describe the condition of late imperial China’s technological advancement in relation to the economy is similar to Escape from Predicament, Thomas Metzger’s analysis of the “predicament” that confronted Chinese intellectual thought from the Song through to the end of the Qing dynasty. Both explanations have at their core the idea of late imperial China not being able to generate real sustainable progress internally, stating that it was the Chinese response to the Western threat in the mid to late 1800s that finally brought the needed change.


ICRIER Working Paper № 407

India’s Platform Economy and Emerging Regulatory Challenges

by Rajat Kathuria, Mansi Kedia and Kaushambi Bagchi


The phenomenal rise of the platform economy has reshaped how economies operate across the world. The importance of digital platforms has never been more evident than in combatting the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Even with the threat of a global recession looming large, technology companies are witnessing a surge in demand for their services. Platforms distinguish themselves from traditional markets by demonstrating speed and scale of innovation and fostering efficient and productive interaction between buyers and sellers. Enterprises using platform-based business models have expanded beyond social media, travel and entertainment to sectors like financial services, healthcare, logistics and transportation. With the objective of building evidence for policy-making in this sector, this study undertakes an in-depth analysis of the impact generated by the platform economy in India, by estimating consumer surplus from the use of platforms, analyzing its impact on traditional businesses either by transformation or disruption. The estimated consumer surplus is Rs. 438.75 per individual per month, amounting to a collective annual surplus of Rs. 3620 billion for India. At current exchange rates this would amount to $47 billion. 

The growth of platforms has also been accompanied by global concern against their anti-competitive practices, the spread of fake news and harmful content, political bias, etc. The paper discusses regulatory changes and areas of concern for market competition, labour and employment, fake news and misinformation, consumer protection, counterfeit goods and data privacy in India.

[Read full article, archived PDF]

[Executive summary, archived PDF]