Living and working in Kenya for the Rockefeller Foundation, and specifically on food security and rural economic development, the reality of food loss and waste is all too familiar. It is the shared reality of millions — the 70 percent of Africans drawing their livelihoods from agriculture and producing 80 percent of food in Africa.
This reality is embodied by Sella, whom I met a few months ago. Shortly after a recent harvest, Sella, a smallholder potato farmer in Kenya, was offered a low price for her potatoes. She refused the offer hoping to get a better price. Hope was her strategy and prayer as she had no alternative market or buyer identified. She lives harvest to harvest and, lacking market information, often finds herself with crops but not buyers. Further, because she relies on rain-fed production, she markets her crops at the same time as many other small scale producers, resulting in gluts and undercutting.
At times, prices may be so low that the crops aren’t worth the labor needed for harvesting them. Sella’s crops rot and she and her family go hungry. Sella has limited knowledge of and access to handling, processing and storage technologies, besides lacking the capital to acquire them. She view’s the losses — of her time, labor, seeds and fertilizer — as inevitable and a “cost of doing business.” As dire as her circumstances are, the worst part is that they aren’t hers alone. Sella’s reality is the sad reality of approximately 500 million small scale farmers worldwide, those who produce up to 80 percent of the food consumed in a large part of the developing world.
It’s become increasingly clear — not only to those of us in the development community, but also those in the public and private sector — that it’s no longer an option but an imperative to invest in systemic solutions and collaborative, integrated approaches to impact smallholders like Sella, and save the food they grow. To increase food security and nutrition for the poorest, as well as food production for local and global markets, smallholder farmers need to be able to lose less and save more. Sella’s experience shows us the negative ramifications of a system that doesn’t combat the losses.
The global community has come together to tackle two Sustainable Development Goals — the first to end extreme hunger, and the second to promote responsible consumption and production.
Achieving SDGs 2 and 12 requires us to waste not, in order to want not, while impacting livelihoods (improved and more consistent income for smallholder farmers, and potentially job creation through processing); health (greater availability of nutritious foods and reduction of toxins for consumers); and natural ecosystems (more efficient use of water and land). There’s a clear opportunity to support and leverage the creation of more inclusive agricultural value chains through our work on loss reduction.
Research and strategy development work conducted by the Rockefeller Foundation confirmed that while no silver bullet exists, small changes in behavior among a few key actors can reduce these barriers and change the system — but all of these small changes need to occur together. Indeed, lack of integration largely explains past failures. Promising technologies are launched but are too expensive for farmers to purchase without access to credit.
Farmer groups are mobilized to use better storage only to find they have no market for increased supply. Awareness campaigns about new solutions drum up interest, but local distribution never materializes. The foundation concluded that impact — more food for more people — depends on aligning actors and creating an integrated set of activities.
The “what” to reducing food loss and waste and the “how” through an integrated development approach are pretty clear. The “when” is just as obvious, as there’s no time like the present to work towards a sustainable future. Beyond the increased awareness of the issue momentum is being created by broad changes in Africa’s food markets and value chains. This points to five areas where new ways of operating in an integrated manner can reduce food loss and waste.
1. Changing market demand.
Agricultural demand is rising in Africa, fueled by rapid urbanization and the growth of the region’s middle class. These more prosperous and more urban consumers are consuming more food; the production, processing, packaging, and distribution of these food crops creates new income opportunities for smallholder farmers and rural people in general — particularly women. Fruit and vegetable production is also characterized by high losses and high natural-resource intensity.
2. Sustainable local sourcing.
Many large corporations are seeking to make their supply chains more efficient by identifying cost-effective, reliable sources of local supply. Multinational supermarket chains as well as African local and regional entities are increasingly sourcing directly from local smallholders to meet domestic and export retail-related needs.
3. Smallholder participation in value chains.
Local sourcing activities represent an unprecedented opportunity to link farmers to more reliable and consolidated large-scale markets, as well as local ones.
4. Loss-reducing technologies.
Many technologies for reducing food loss exist, but are vastly underutilized, e.g. hermetic bags, heavy-molded plastic containers, and mobile processing units. These generally cost little per unit, are suited to individual use, and are easily scaled up for more users.
5. Rising public and private investment in African agriculture.
African governments are prioritizing agricultural sectors and committing to reducing postharvest loss in their food crop value chains. Other public and private organizations, bilateral and multilaterals and foundations are investing, or exploring investments, in post-harvest activities.
Large multinational companies have adopted sustainability goals linked to reducing food loss and waste. These trends are leading large private-sector actors — both retailers and food and beverage companies — to collaborate to address supply chain challenges and are increasing sourcing from smallholder farmers, who grow 90 percent of Africa’s food.
Reducing food loss and waste is urgent but addressable. The mandate of the United Nations, coupled with the momentum of the market make the clear that … we can do this! And we can all benefit! The parental golden rule — don’t waste your food — was instilled in us before we could write our names but actions speak louder than words and now we must follow the rule. We must change our food habits, fix the food system and reduce food loss and waste. Current and future generations are depending on us, listening to our parents and doing as we’ve been told.
How can an intentional, integrated approach to the design, delivery and evaluation of programs make an enduring difference in people’s lives? Devex, in partnership withFHI 360, aims to advance the global conversation on the promise offered by integrated development solutions through#IntegratedDev. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using#IntegratedDev.
C.D. Glin is the associate director for African region at The Rockefeller Foundation. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Glin supports and leads the development and execution of several initiatives. He serves as the regional champion for the foundations initiatives in strengthening food security, agribusiness and the building of resilience to the devastating effects of climate change to enable real, sustainable and equitable economic growth.
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