African farmers lose US$4bn grain after harvest annually

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Food security in Sub Saharan Africa is under threat with the continent losing an average US$4 billion in post-harvest losses annually, hence the need for farmers on the continent to invest in modern storage methods to avert acute hunger,  the United Nations food agency has advised.

Estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), seen by The Southern Times shows the losses in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) in grain and other cereals accounting are in excess of US$4 billion per annum for all grains, which is more than the value of food aid received on the continent over last decade.

The volume and value of these postharvest loss estimates are alarming, fueling concerns of more people likely to go hungry in the next few years, with climatic changes setting onto the continent.

George Okech, the FAO representative in Zambia, regrets the increasing food insecurity among various households on the continent. He notes presently, post harvest losses levels have risen above 33% annually and needs to be curtailed to save the continent from total food insecurity.

“Farmers need to adapt to new farming methods. Given the amount of food being lost annually on the continent, we need to devise new strategies and storage methods, otherwise we are at risk of doubling the food loses in the next few years and leave many people hungry,” he said.

In an interview on the sidelines of the Institute of Agriculture Policy Research Institute (IAPRI)-organised launch of the Food Security Update report in Lusaka last week, Okech warned of increased food scarcity on the continent.

He urged farmers, chiefly small and medium scale, to adapt to new methods of farming, improve storage capacities, noting that many barns and silos lacked acceptable standards to reduce post harvest losses to avert or reduce hunger.

Research findings by various global food experts define post harvest losses as a global challenge to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as zero hunger and responsible consumption and production.

Reduction of post-harvest food losses is important for sustainably improving food and nutrition security. In Sub-Saharan Africa, posthaste loss is particularly important because not only is agricultural productivity low, but about 374 million people experienced severe food insecurity last year.

Although there is renewed international attention to reducing post-harvest food losses following the African Union member states and United Nations pledging to halve food losses by 2025 and 2030, more needs to be done, FAO notes.

Sheahan and Barrett, in their report, note that large amounts of foods are physically lost at different stages as food commodities move across their value chains.  

In SSA, the physical loss of food has been approximately estimated as 37% or 120–170 kg per year per capita. 

The African Postharvest Losses Information System shows that Global Food Loss and Food Waste study similarly estimates cereal losses across SSA of about 6% during harvesting and 8% during the other postharvest handling and storage stages.

While efforts have been significant in developing countries to reduce postharvest food loss, there have been challenges as PHL occur along the entire value chain of a commodity and the value chain stages vary significantly by crop and regional environment.

One of the main challenges to post-harvest loss reduction is the lack of empirical information on losses and their determinants along the crop value chains, FAO notes.

Post-harvest losses occur between harvest and the moment of human consumption. They include on-farm losses, such as when grain is threshed, winnowed, and dried, as well as losses along the chain during transportation, storage, and processing.

An estimated 795 million people globally lack adequate food to lead a healthy active life, representing one in nine people on earth. The vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished.

Africa has the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger with one person in four being undernourished. Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year.

One out of six children -- roughly 100 million -- in developing countries is underweight. One in four of the world's children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three.

If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million. 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

The UN food agency-WFP estimates US$3.2 billion is needed annually to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children; findings by foodaidfoundation show.