Reducing Postharvest Food Loss: A Call for Concerted Action


The world’s population is increasing at a
rate never seen before and is estimated to cross 9 billion by the year 2050. This will create an
increasing demand for healthier food. According to the United Nations’ World
Food Programme, there is enough food in the world today for everyone to lead a healthy and
productive life. Despite this, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
estimates that one in nine people suffers from chronic undernourishment. Almost all
of these people live in underdeveloped and developing countries with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for the highest prevalence of
hunger and malnourishment in any region in the world. The question, therefore,
arises as to why hunger is still a relevant issue when the world’s farmers are
producing enough food to supply every human on the planet.

Part
of the answer lies in postharvest food loss

In the fight against global hunger, we often
put more emphasis on improving pre-harvest crop production. However, there is
an additional factor that aggravates food security – Postharvest
Loss
(PHL). PHL
is a collective food loss along the production chain. It also translates into a
waste of resources (land, water, and nutrients) invested in crop production,
and includes food thrown away by consumers and retailers. According to the FAO,
roughly one-third of the food produced is lost on the journey
from farm to fork.

PHL
occurs at different stages of the food chain in different geographies

While PHLs can occur at any stage of the food
supply chain, the extent of it varies significantly between countries. In
industrialized nations food is wasted to a great extent at the consumer
level
, meaning
that it is thrown away even if it is suitable for human consumption. In
underdeveloped and developing countries wastage of food usually occurs at the producer
or farmer end
of
the supply chain. In these countries, harvesting is mostly carried out by hand
due to lack of technologies. These manual harvesting methods contribute considerably
towards loss in quantity (physical weight loss) and quality (edibility,
consumer acceptance and nutritional quality) of crops, resulting in low level
of yield per acre and less income for farmers. Other factors that can contribute to PHL include high crop
perishability, inferior transportation, poor packaging and storage, fungal and
bacterial contamination, and invasion by birds, rodents, and insects.

For example, let us consider the magnitude of
PHLs for grains in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Grains are one of the most
important food staples in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to a report by the World Bank, PHLs in SSA can reach nearly US$4 billion a year out of an annual
value of grain production of US$27 billion. While there are solutions to reduce
PHL, the adoption of these technologies in Africa has been low. This can be
attributed to a perceived lack of economic incentives by farmers to reduce such
losses. In the area of smallholder farming, this kind of perception seriously
impairs the total earning capacity of farmers who live on the edge of food
security.

Azhar Amir

One Planet MBA graduate from the University of Exeter, UK and International development professional with cross-functional experience in the area of environment, water, climate change, food security, sustainable agriculture, and natural resource management.

Email: (azharamir106@gmail.com)

How to reduce PHL: Concerted collaborations and
systemic interventions

Critical agricultural challenges such as PHLs
can be better addressed when public-private or private-private partnerships are
formed to create shared economic benefits for smallholders and stakeholders. In 2013 the Government of Ethiopia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with DuPont and the
U.S. Agency for International Development to help smallholders boost maize
productivity and reduce post-harvest loss. This MoU serves as an indicator that
a collective approach is required to root out food losses at each stage of the
chain.In order to derive the most
value out of such systemic interventions, governments, research bodies, input
providers, distributors, retailers and other players should work
collaboratively to impart best management practices to smallholders, develop
more strong linkages between farmers and markets, improve storage and
transportation, and support R&D of new technologies.

Strategic
partnerships between large firms and technology start-ups should also be the
order of the day for solving PHL issues. Exosect, a University of
Southampton spin-off, has developed a wax-based technology called Entostat to deliver a fungal organism (Beauveria
bassiana
) to control pests in stored grains. In 2014 the company announced
the submission of B. bassiana to the European Union
regulatory authorities. Another start-up called Save Indian Grain.
Org
that describes itself as a social enterprise has designed galvanized
steel farm bins customized to meet storage requirements and budgets of
smallholders. These innovations when backed up by investment from venture
capital firms and large companies have the potential to yield high social and
economic returns.

In recent years a large number of papers have been published focusing on PHLs. Despite all
that has been said about food wastage, there is now a clear need for concerted
actions by different stakeholders to turn words into results. Only by adding
value across the food chain can governments and businesses ensure profit maximization
for farmers and sustainable food security for all.



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