One-third of the world’s available food never makes it from farm to table as food is often discarded, uneaten or lost at the stages of production, processing, retailing and consumption. However, in Africa, the bulk of the wasted food is from post-harvest loss and consumer preference.
Food loss and waste is an all-inclusive problem, and eliminating it requires an all-inclusive solution that looks across the global food system to identify where the biggest losses occur and provide incentives for solving the problems at the root. To do this, YieldWise, Rockefeller Foundation’s $130 million initiative, launched in January 2016, is working with private, public and nonprofit actors involved in the food supply system to cut their food loss and waste by half.
At its core, the YieldWise approach focuses on behaviour change; from how smallholder farmers grow and store their crops to how companies account for food loss and waste across their supply chains. An efficient, productive food system with minimal loss is the initiative’s goal – and one that is well within reach.
One and a half years since the launch of YieldWise, there is progress in access to post-harvest technologies, governments recognizing the importance of these technologies and post-harvest management, large buyers procuring from smallholder farmers, and financial institutions developing innovative financial products targeted at smallholder farmers. Additionally, through volume commitments, buyers demand is being linked to smallholder-aggregated surpluses. This, in turn, is helping to unlock access to PHL technologies and finance.
An ecosystem of buyers is being built across the 3 value chains, and it continues to grow both in terms of number and volume commitments.
Additionally, smallholder farmers are seeing the value of aggregation and adoption of post-harvest loss management practices and technologies. A high uptake of post-harvest loss reduction technologies is being observed across priority value chains. In the mango value chain in Kenya, 90 percent of the farmers trained are using loss-reducing technologies. SMEs are also emerging to cater for post-harvest loss reduction technologies and services. In Tanzania, a young entrepreneur called Anne Viola established her post-harvest loss reduction.
In an interview with Ventures Africa at the seventh edition of the African Green Revolution Forum in Abidjan, the Director of Yieldwise at The Rockefeller Foundation, Rafael Flor explains some of the implications of food loss and how smallholder farmers across Africa can leverage on simple ways to reduce post-harvest food loss.
Ventures Africa (VA): Beyond food insecurity, what are some of the other impacts of food loss?
Rafael Flor (RF): When talking about these impacts, there are implications in terms of what I call the Triple P: People, Planet and Profit. We need to start with the market and the consumer because otherwise, the other pieces do not fit well
We are trying to demonstrate that no matter what commodity you have there are very simple solutions to reduce post-harvest loss. And the way that we are doing this is that we strongly believe that one way to reduce post-harvest loss is by increasing the efficiency of the value chain. How do you do that? It is very important to build an ecosystem of buyers to ensure that there is demand for the product and that way there is an incentive for the rest of the value chain to pay attention to food loss.
VA: How do you believe we can positively change the way food is produced and distributed?
RF: If we expand access to simple, proven technologies and form new connections between global corporations and smallholder farmers, we believe we can positively change the way food is produced and distributed. Farmer aggregation and training is also important because there needs to be a tangible amount of goods produced to attract the private sector. Farmers need to be trained so that they can produce good quality products. When you put the forces of demand and supply together, all of these unlock access to both finance and technology. The bank will tell you straight that if you don’t have a market, it will be very difficult for them to lend you money.
VA: What are some of the simple and efficient ways to manage post-harvest loss?
RF: Providing farmers with cost-effective technologies or methods that extend the short shelf life of certain foods like tomatoes and cassava, could transform family incomes and, in due course, local and regional economies. For example in Nigeria, switching from the use of raffia baskets to plastic crates can reduce loss by 90 percent. This is because what happens is that anytime you move the produce, it is bruised from rubbing each other and this increases the speed at which it gets spoiled. Some of these baskets weigh 60kg and the tomatoes at the bottom become squashed. So using crates that have normal weights will reduce spoilage.
VA: How can farmers better manage loss having considered price fluctuations and the various challenges associated with transporting their produce?
RF: Let me use producing tomatoes in Nigeria as an example once more. If you produce tomatoes in Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa or in Katsina and your market is in Lagos, and you don’t have a secure market and you have a price that fluctuates 10 or 20 times in a given day and you ask a farmer to take that risk to move the tomatoes and properly manage to Lagos or Port Harcourt, what comes next? If it then happens that they take the risk and then spend all this money and in the morning they tell you its N50 per kilo, and then at the end of the day when it reaches there its N10, what do you do? How will you afford the right kind of technology with that risk? Now with a little bit of knowledge in the management of risk; if they tell you its N50 or N60 and we’ll guarantee that price, then you can start to invest. So far as you increase productivity and quality by using crates or cold storage for instance, then it makes financial sense for a farmer. In many cases, you could then easily store those tomatoes for a week and you wouldn’t have to sell them all in one day.
VA: At this point would you say that some of these simple technologies to keep food fresh are well within reach?
RF: It is up to you as a producer, farmer and businessman to determine the most cost-effective technology that you can utilize. I would also like to also point out that with more solar energy startups spring up, cold storage could be a viable solution to food loss in countries like Nigeria. Take for instance Cassava, the shelf life of Cassava is between 24hrs and 72hrs. When you harvest it and take it out of the ground, it bruises and starts to oxidize and damage. If you don’t manage it well especially during the dry period, it starts to deteriorate quite quickly. So in terms of technology, we have partnered with the University of Greenwich which is looking at accruing technology to create a store for transport. It is like a bag that allows respiration but reduces the speed at which the root deteriorates, so you can store it for up to 10 days. That is what we are testing right now. So you have 10 days to move that produce from wherever it is being produced to where the processing plant is because the other challenge in Nigeria is transport and logistics and also that the processing plants are far away from the field because of the energy and electricity challenges that the country faces.
With partners like the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and private sector players like Coca-Cola and Dangote Group, Rockefeller’s YieldWise Initiative will also focus on linking small and big businesses that can mutually benefit from diversified sources for products and enhanced markets. At the same time, food waste generated by retail outfits and consumers across the U.S. and Europe needs to be dramatically reduced, and the initiative will be making targeted investments towards this goal.