Reduce Food Losses and Wastage to Increase Food and Nutrition Security
Food losses and wastage are important components of the food and nutrition security debates. By definition, ‘food loss’ results from an agricultural process or technical limitation in storage, infrastructure, packaging, or marketing while ‘food waste’ refers to food that is of good quality and fit for human consumption but does not get consumed (Lipinski, et al., 2013; FAO, 2011) .
Globally, losses and wastage are estimated at about 30 percent of initial production intended for human consumption (Gustavsson, et al., 2011; Lundqvist, et al., 2008) . This amount could be enough to feed two billion people without any harm to the environment (FAO, 2011). Annually it is estimated that between 120 kg to 170 kg of food per capita is lost or wasted, of which only 6 kg to 11 kg is by consumers. This may be due to problems in harvesting, storage, packing, transport, infrastructure or market / price mechanisms, as well as institutional and legal frameworks. Reducing food loss increases the quantity of food available which can reduce the need to supplement availability through transfer programs (at household level) or commercial imports or food aid donations (at national level).
A major source of food wastage is the variance between demand and supply for food products is. It arises from many factors ranging from farmers not finding a market for their products and leaving them to rot in the field, middlemen changing the quantity ordered or supermarkets downsizing product orders at the last minute, leaving producers with unsalable products (Lipinski, et al., 2013). Information asymmetry due to miscommunication, perverse signals and incentives all along the supply chain, result in food loss or waste and, together with it, all the resources that were used to create it (FAO, 2011; Lundqvist et al., 2008). At the farm level, produce is also lost during the handling, sorting and grading process while, at the processing stage the lack of adequate processing facilities causes high food losses. In many situations, the food processing industry lack the capacity to process and preserve enough fresh farm produce to meet the demand. In addition, to the challenge of seasonality of production and the cost of investing in processing facilities that will not be used all year round.
In Sub-Sahara Africa, fruits and vegetables, fish and sea food, and milk accounts for the highest percent of losses and waste arising during distribution. In addition, fruits and vegetables constitute the highest percent of losses occurring during consumption. This may be partly because of their perishability nature among other factors. Pulses, oil seeds and cereals have the lowest percentage of losses and waste at both levels Table 1.
Different pockets of the country are vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity crises annually for the last decade such that at any given time of the year, there is a region of the of the country that requires food relief or some form of food assistance. This situation arises not only from weather related events, drought and flooding, but also from complex interactions among political, economic, social and environmental factors. Other causes of food crises include the complex nexus between rapid population growth, land fragmentation, and natural resource degradation. For instance, in 2016, there were deficits in several food items, including maize and rice which recorded the highest deficits, potato production on the other hand was sufficient.
In regards, to postharvest losses, Table 2 shows that the average losses for maize were 21 per cent, resulting mainly from inefficiencies in handling, improper storage, lack of knowledge and underperforming preservation technologies in the food value chains. On-farm storage accounts for 80 per cent of all losses and mainly occur within 6 months after harvesting due to insect pests, rodents and pathogens. Poor postharvest management practices are attributed to rising causes of aflatoxin, thereby exposing consumers to health risks.
Post-harvest losses in milk are highest at the farm level due to spillage, lack of market and rejection at market. Rejection at market is a result of poor handling and bad roads which delay delivery. The losses are higher during the wet season, when production is high, and roads are impassable. In some areas, it is possible to market only the morning milk, which creates a major constraint to increasing production as producer households are forced to consume the afternoon/evening milk themselves, and in some periods part of it is wasted.
The Government has put in place some measures to reduce food losses and wastage one of current initiatives is through a legalized agribusiness initiative that is supporting the ‘Big Four Agenda’, the Warehouse Receipt System(WRS). A bill was passed in 2015 to facilitate the establishment of the system which will support the collateralization of foods so that stored food can be used as a security against which a farmer can borrow and transfer the right to cash the receipt against which food is held to another party.
In addressing the challenges of food losses and wastages among the key strategic interventions required includes:
Improve post-harvest handling of farm produce: For example, harvesting fruits on high trees can be done with a hook and a catching bag on a pole, to prevent the fruit falling thus bruising. On the other hand, crops mostly, vegetable crops are better harvested using tools like knives that cut the crop. Fresh products such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish straight from the farm, or after the catch, can spoil quickly in hot conditions if infrastructure is missing for cooling, transport, storage, and markets. New storage technologies have been developed, such as green technologies (solar dryers) that improve the lifetime of products in storage and, in turn, increase food security and economic benefits for the producers (Lipinski, et al., 2013). These practices are being used in the horticultural sector especially mango, avocado, French beans etc. production in the country.
Raise awareness about food Losses
Major communication campaigns are needed to raise awareness on the need for accurate data to inform accurately food losses and wastage. This should cut across all the stakeholders in different parts of the food supply chain. This will help in having coherent data gathering, data sharing and data analysis. As a result, it will be possible to take appropriate and timely actions over time and space in dressing specific challenges.
Implement legislation to reduce food wastage
Effective policy needs to be based on a wholistic, flexible approach that focuses on the involvement of stakeholders at all levels of the food value chain and invests in raising awareness, enhancing cooperation from village level, to the national level. Legislation will need to be put in place to support the guidelines developed at the different levels.
Local knowledge and innovation
Farmers hold a wealth of knowledge about their land and its ability to produce food. The important role that local knowledge and indigenous technologies can play in reducing uncertainty and risk cannot be over emphasized. It is important to promote opportunities to share information and knowledge at the household, local, and regional levels.
In conclusion, reducing food losses and waste is one of the many critical aspects that will go a long way in assisting the continent meet some of its food and nutrition needs. This requires an integrated, multi-sectoral, wholistic approach.
Authors: Policy Analysts Nancy Laibuni, John Nyangena and Joshua Laichena