Nairobi — Food security experts have called on African governments to urgently invest in systems that will lead to a huge reduction in post-harvest losses which is a major contributor to food insecurity in the continent.
Director of Markets at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Anne Mbaabu told an international meeting to discuss a study on impact of post-harvest losses on key players in the agricultural value chain in Nairobi that food valued at over four billion dollars is lost every year in Africa as a result of post- harvest inefficiencies across the staples agricultural value chain.
"Post-harvest losses significantly endanger the livelihoods of stakeholders across the value chain by reducing valuable incomes and profitability," Mbaabu said, urging governments to increase income levels of actors across various agricultural value chains.
"Research has shown that a reduction of just one per cent in post-harvest losses can lead to a gain of 40 million dollars annually. Imagine the impact if we are to reduce the losses by just two percent," she said.
The meeting reviewed the outcomes of the first phase of a study that seeks to establish the levels of post-harvest losses along the stages of the value chain in 11 countries across Africa including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Uganda and Mali.
The study targets various staple crops including maize, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum, millet and grain legumes such as cowpeas, soybeans, groundnuts and beans.
The meeting which was hosted by Nairobi-based AGRA, in partnership with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, agreed that post- harvest losses are a major contributor to food insecurity in Africa and there is an urgent need to mitigate the negative impacts across the agricultural value chain.
The participants decried the fact that there is very little data to demonstrate the real impact of post-harvest losses in Africa. AGRA President Jane Karuku called on African governments to take bold actions towards reducing the high level of post-harvest losses across the continent noting that value chain actors and particularly small holder farmers were losing potential incomes through systemic inefficiencies.
"If we are serious about breaking the cycle of poverty, we must develop efficient systems for ensuring that the food we produce is properly stored, transported and marketed," Karuku said.
"At AGRA, we are keen to work with various partners to come out with viable approaches to address this critical issue because we would like to see the emergence of more efficient value chains. This would ultimately benefit the smallholder farmer who is our primary focus."
The meeting was attended by representatives from a cross- section of organizations working on post-harvest losses globally including COMESA, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, ICIPE, Technoserve, World Food Program, Cereal Growers Association, Eastern Africa Grain Council, and Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, Economic Research Institute Consortium, Rural Urban Development Initiative, Concern Universal and Frontier Development Associates among others.
The participants discussed the methodological challenges of collecting reliable and comparable data on the magnitude to post- harvest losses and the different factors contributing to them.
Participants called for more harmonized data collection methodologies to ensure that comparable losses of quality, quantity and economic losses.
"We need stronger inter-organizational collaboration to benchmark current approaches and ensure more reliable estimation of post-harvest losses in the continent," Dr Irene S. Egyir, the lead Researcher for the study said.
"At the moment, though there are many studies available, the lack of a standard methodology from country to country makes it difficult to compare the date and draw conclusion."
The study seeks to determine the status of post-harvest losses and storage at various levels including the farmer level, aggregation centers and in grain traders' stores.
It seeks to determine the major factors that cause post-harvest losses, identify local post-harvest management practices and come up with recommendation for improving storage structures.