Does India need more supermarkets?

Bringing British-style supermarkets to India could increase the country's food supply.

Manish Swarup / AP / File
In this Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011 photo, a vegetable seller, Vijay Kumar, waits for customers in his shop in an upscale INA market, in New Delhi, India. If India's current food markets were replaced with supermarkets like the UK's, would it help with malnourishment?

It's not that we have too many supermarkets.

It's rather that some other places have too few. Take, for a moment, the example of India:

Opening up the retail space to foreign investment would help in overhauling the country's antiquated supply chain. Shortcomings in the distribution systems have created huge differences between wholesale and retail prices. Inefficiencies are common. The government estimates that 40% of the fruit and vegetable production in country is lost due to inadequate storage and transport infrastructure. Waste of this magnitude, troubling in the best of times, is appalling as the country battles double-digit inflation.

Now it's true that 35 million people work in the current not supermarket distribution chain: but being able to distribute groceries without using 35 million people, by, for example, using 15 million, frees up 20 million people to go and do something more interesting, more productive.

And would you just look at that 40% waste. Sure, I know, we're told that we here in the UK throw away 30% of the food we buy because the supermarkets make it too cheap and too attractive. But moving to that system would increase the Indian food supply by 10% in itself, not a bad idea in a country with so many still malnourished.

It's absolutely true that economic efficiency isn't everything in this life. But where efficiency is called for, like in the distribution of food, it's a pretty good thing to be, to be efficient.

It's all very well for various types to complain about the supermarkets but one can look around the world and see what it's like not to have them. Worse.

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