Nature and Biodiversity

This initiative could cut Africa's food waste by 50%

This article is published in collaboration with Mail & Guardian Africa.
A girl selling apples by the roadside waits for customers just outside the Angolan city of Lubango, January 15, 2010. Lubango is hosting the African Cup of Nations Group D soccer matches.  REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (ANGOLA - Tags: SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR28WUB

A girl selling apples by the roadside waits for customers. Image: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Samantha Spooner
Writer, Mail & Guardian Africa
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Food waste has become a hot topic recently, as seen earlier this month when France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks.

The law came into place after heavy campaigning by shoppers and those opposed to food waste. And from the statistics, it’s easy to see why this has generated such a large grassroots following.

One-third of the world’s available food either spoils or gets thrown away before it ever reaches a plate - that’s enough to feed everyone in the world for two months - and even though sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, affecting about one in four people, between 30% to 40% of food produced on the continent for human consumption is lost or wasted.

In Africa’s case, with a population that will double to 2.4 billion by 2050, coupled with the pressures of climate change and vulnerable smallholder farmers - food coming from the continent cannot afford to be wasted on such a huge scale.

On the ground

There is a glimmer of hope that the waste will be reduced. On the ground, among others the Rockefeller Foundation is looking to tackle the problem through its recently launched YieldWise initiative.

The foundation has had a long interest in food security; but no gains can be sustained unless they stopped the huge food waste losses from happening.

In an interview with Mail and Guardian Africa, Mamadou Biteye, the Managing Director for Africa, explained that there are two key issues perpetuating these massive losses.

“Consumer-driven food waste” - this relates to consumer preferences, use by dates, aesthetic standards which are perpetuated by “perception and misleading information” and which “causes a huge amount of dumping of food”.

It is a problem that is increasing in Africa because of the growing middle class and changing consumer habits, but, said Mamadou, is a problem that is more prevailing in developed countries.

The other key issue causing massive food waste is “post-harvest loss”. This is food that is lost between harvest to market due to inefficiencies, particularly at the level of the farmer. Things like inappropriate harvest techniques, inappropriate handling, inadequate storage facilities and loss due to poor roads. For example in Kenya the aggregated loss of the mango between the farm to the market is about 45%.

On the continent, 50% of fruits and vegetables, 40% of roots and tubers, and 20% of cereals - all of which are staple foods - are lost in the post-harvest stage or processes.

In addition, “on average, food post-harvest loss can cost up to 15% of farmer income [and] affects over 470million small-holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa”, said Mamadou.

Looking to tackle this loss, the initiative has been “allocated $130million over the next seven years, and for starters, will work with partners to address post-harvest loss in the mango (in Kenya), tomato (in Nigeria), cassava (in Nigeria) and maize (in Tanzania) value chains.”

Simple solutions

They’re planning to try to solve this in several innovative and cost effective ways.

These include guaranteeing farmers steady access to new local and global markets, help ing farmers access technologies and solutions to curb preventable loss. These “technologies” can be things as simple as heavy moulded plastic crates to prevent damage or extending the shelf life of goods through solar drying and provision of cold storage units.

At a higher level, the foundation is engaging with big players. For example it’s working with the government of Tanzania to supply proper storage solutions, like metal silos and hermetic cocoons, to smallholder farmers. Or big companies like Dangote Farms Limited to build processing industries - a key initiative which could significantly support moving smallholder farmers into middle income status.

It is worthwhile to see such engagement on an issue that hasn’t been at the forefront of Africa’s development agenda, despite it affecting millions of people on the continent. It’s engagement with the private sector makes it all the more exciting.

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