Tackling food loss – the show must go on

AGRF 2020

It’s hardly surprising that the World Bank is placing the reduction of food loss at the top of its agenda. Speaking at AGRF 2018, World Bank Director Simeon Ehui has provided two startling facts to come to terms with.

Firstly, given it is widely accepted that some 30 percent of food grown is ultimately wasted, this has an economic value that’s almost as high as Chinese GDP. And secondly, if this same loss was a country, it would be the world’s third-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

As Ehui pointed out, we now have only a few years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) targets. So, quite apart from addressing a plethora of issues around hunger, poverty and inequality, reducing food loss will also provide a rapid and effective route to meeting other key commitments.

It fell to the Hon. Charles Tizeba, Tanzania’s Minister of Agriculture, to set the issue of losses during and after harvest in a national and continental context. As he pointed out, Africa’s population is growing significantly faster than that of the rest of the world: today’s global population of around 7 billion may be over 9 billion by 2050.

Africa’s population, meanwhile, is set to grow from today’s 1.2 billion to around 2.5 billion over the same period. As he said, “That means twice as much food demand.”

He went on to describe how Tanzania, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, has conducted a study to identify and address the main points where losses occur, from harvest, to handling, transit, storage, processing and even on the plate when people overestimate what they want to eat.

“In some value chains, such as horticulture, the collective figures are stunning, sometimes beyond 50 percent,” he said. “Three years ago, we had a bumper harvest in Tanzania, and I saw hundreds of tonnes of onions and tomatoes being fed to animals because there were no markets to sell to.”

Tanzania is now working hard to reduce losses, with a national post-harvest strategy in place covering production to consumption. This aims to encourage the right behaviour at every stage of the value chain, to improve infrastructure, to provide farmers with access to technologies and knowledge and to encourage investment in food-processing capacity to guarantee markets and extend shelf life.

All these moves were warmly welcomed by H.E. Josefa Sacko, the African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture.

Outlining the recently launched AU strategy to address post-harvest losses, she emphasised that removing bottlenecks on the way to the consumer would enable Africa not only to feed “our children and our nations, but also the continent as a whole and the rest of the world”.

As she said, it is now time for all African countries to take ownership of the issues and target ministerial budgets on making action a priority.

Rafael Flor, Director of The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative, was in full agreement and outlined an approach designed to help nations determine the actions to take. Developed by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), this five-point plan advises policy-makers to:

• gain awareness of what people eat and how they use food
• consider and address supply-chain infrastructure
• identify efficiency opportunities
• collaborate with strategic partners
• identify and address environmental issues