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Opinion: Food Security & Nutrition

Actions in Africa Preventing Food Loss and Waste

Talentus Mthunzi Talentus Mthunzi

Ending hunger and ending food waste are both central to the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union’s AGENDA 2063 and the Malabo Declaration/AU regional priorities. The good news is we can tackle both simultaneously, argues Talentus Mthunzi from the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

There is a very thin line between food loss and food waste. Food loss and food waste happen at different stages of the food supply chain from agriculture production, harvesting, post-harvest handling, processing, packaging, distribution, retail and consumption. Based on current literature, losses at post-harvest are referred to as food losses while those that happen at later stages of the food supply chain are called food waste.

Annually, farmers produce enough food to feed everyone in the world, however, many people are still food insecure due to complications and inefficiencies in the food system. It is currently estimated that one third of edible food produced annually, about 1.3 billion tonnes, is lost or wasted. Global food losses and waste per year are estimated at 30 per cent for cereals, 40-50 per cent for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20 per cent for oil seeds, meat and dairy, plus 35 per cent for fish, with losses and waste differing across the countries, regions and continents of the world.

Food loss and waste, and their ripple effects on the environment, society and economy have become an increasing global concern. With every ounce of food produced and then wasted, there are associated wastages in water, energy, capital, nutrition and other related resources.

The total volume of water used to produce food that is lost on an annual basis is equivalent to the yearly flow of the Volga River in Russia; it is three times the volume of Lake Geneva. In terms of land, 28 per cent of the global arable area (1.4 billion hectares of land) is used to produce food that is lost or wasted annually.

Futhermore, food waste has been noted to immensely contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The carbon footprint of wasted food is approximately 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere on an annual basis. Methane emitted from land-fills is the largest source of GHG in the waste sector. In fact, food waste would be the third largest GHG emitter, if it were a country. Such wastages strain resources and exacerbate food insecurity across the globe.

Credit: FAO

The Case of Food Loss in Sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, post-harvest losses account for up to a fifth of harvests, thereby negating the benefits of investments aimed at ensuring increased productivity towards food and nutrition security, hence the focus. The Inaugural Biennial Review Report (BRR) released by the African Union Commission in January 2018 shows that the continent is not on track in terms of its efforts towards the ‘Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss’, having scored zero in 2017, against a target of 10 per cent towards the 2025 target.

A key challenge related to this performance on postharvest management (PHM) is the inability of countries to capture and record data on physical losses, perhaps as a result of unavailability or weak national monitoring and evaluation systems as highlighted by the 2017 BRR.

To address these challenges, FANRPAN is contributing to a set of initiatives to step up action in this area.

Improving Post-Harvest Management Through Regulation

The goal of this project is to increase food security of smallholder farmers in SSA through reduced post-harvest losses at farm and community level by increasing food self-sufficiency and incomes of smallholder men and women. The three main outcomes of the project are to improve the handling and storage options within the grains and pulses value chains; compile good practice options for reducing postharvest losses for scaling up; and to introduce regulatory frameworks on reducing post-harvest losses in food supply chains at national and regional levels.

FANRPAN is responsible for the work on regulation, which focuses on policy advocacy at regional and national levels. Considerable progress in the two countries we are implementing work: Benin and Mozambique.

In Benin, PHM has been included in the formulation and implementation of policies and work-plans of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MAEP). A new five-year strategy of the Agricultural Policy (PSDSA), which we have contributed to developing, now has an explicit target on PHM, that is, “Halve, by 2025, the current levels of post-harvest losses”. Several other national institutions have also been persuaded to integrate PHM in their operational processes, including the Department of Quality, Innovations and Entrepreneurial Training (DQIFE), Plant Production Branch (DPV), and Agricultural Center for Rural Development (CARDER/SCDA).

Our work in Mozambique is also championing the adoption of PHM at national level. The team has managed to convince the government to establish a PHM working group which has been involved in the development of the national agriculture frameworks such as the National Agriculture Investment Plan (PNISA), the Operational Plan for Agrarian Development (PODA), the Operational Plan for Food Production (POPA), and the Operational Plan for Agricultural Commercialization (POCA). As a result, the government recently included a target of “reducing postharvest losses from 24 per cent to 12 per cent” in the PODA (2015-2019). The PODA is aligned with the Mozambique government’s Five-Year Program and is an instrument developed to ensure the implementation of the PINISA and the Mozambique Strategic Plan for Agriculture Development Sector (PEDSA).

As a result of the advocacy initiatives in Mozambique, the Ministry of Agriculture has requested FANRPAN to assist the country with the development of a national PHM strategy.  The process has already been initiated and the FANRPAN team will strive for, not just the development of the strategy but, its implementation as well, so as to ensure that post-harvest losses are addressed. The lessons learnt from the policy advocacy initiatives in Benin and Mozambique are being documented and shared at regional level to ensure proliferation to other countries and regions.

Regulations are critical in setting and reinforcing postharvest policies and standards for all players in the food supply chain. The adherence to such regulations by stakeholders may contribute to reduction of postharvest losses at national, regional and global levels. However, there need to be buy in and effective compliance systems for food supply chain actors to adhere to such regulations.

Photo Credit: Stephen Morrison/Africa Practice

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