15 March 2019

African Entrepreneurs Fighting Food Waste

Despite an abundance of food when production conditions are favourable, the intermittent supply of power and poor storage facilities often mean that staple foods such as vegetables and fruit are lost after being harvested. Two African entrepreneurs are working to curb this waste.

About 815 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy, active life, and nearly 25 percent of people in developing countries are undernourished, according to the World Food Programme. To put it into even better perspective, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the world produces enough food waste (about 1.4 billion tonnes) to feed as many as 2 billion people each year. This is roughly one-third of the global food supply.

Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said, "In a world of 7 billion people, set to grow to 9 billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense -- economically, environmentally and ethically."

Food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, from initial agricultural production down to final household consumption, according to the UN.

"Up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed by people. It is an excess in an age where almost a billion people go hungry," the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has stated.

Nutritious and highly perishable foods such as fruit, vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rate.

Reducing food loss and waste is necessary to improve food security, reduce wasted resources, improve food availability and reduce stress on natural resources.

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu - creating a Cold Hub

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, whose family are farmers in rural Imo State in Nigeria's south-east, has devoted most of his life to making sense of his country's agricultural follies, according to a report in The Guardian.

In order to minimise food waste and loss, he has created the Cold Hub, a mobile, solar-powered storage facility. The solar panels mounted on the roof of the unit feed high-capacity batteries, which in turn feed the refrigerating unit. Farmers pay a flat daily fee for each crate of food stored and it is estimated that farmers have massively reduced their food losses.

"Nigeria is a very large country, with 90 million smallholder farmers who do not have access to any form of cold storage," Ikegwuonu told The Guardian. "We are home to the largest tomato production belt in west Africa, yet farmers are losing more than 50% of their crops due to a lack of cold storage. So we came up with solar-powered, walk-in cold rooms capable of extending the life of food by up to 21 days. My goal is to introduce these hubs to all developing countries."

Cold Hubs have been designed for all weather conditions and units can run for three days without any sunlight, increasing its potential for use anywhere in the world.

"One of our hubs is in a large fish market here in Nigeria. [It means that] more than 300 women now have access to cold storage. And another hub is going to be located in Tanzania next year as a special hub for a refugee market," continued Ikegwuonu. "The goal is to eliminate all previous losses in fruit and veg, increase the income of the farmers, retailers and wholesalers, and create employment for women, because we hire women to work in the hubs themselves."

Lawrence Okettayot - making it last

Unlike Ikegwuonu, Ugandan engineering graduate Lawrence Okettayot looked into dehydration over cold storage but, like his Nigerian counterpart, his family also suffered heavy economic losses due to food waste. Okettayot's creation, wittily dubbed the Sparky Dryer, dehydrates produce by burning zero carbon-emitting biofuel, increasing the shelf life of food from days to months.

"Much of what is sold in markets is wasted because farmers cannot store the food. So they have to return home and pick fresh fruit and vegetables to sell the next day... During the dry season, very little grows here, so people go hungry," he told the BBC.

The Sparky Dryer is not a new concept - electric dehydrators already exist in the commercial market. However, the Sparky Dryer is not only cheaper but also works well during the rainy season, unlike solar dryers or traditional open sun drying.

When one compares the statistics of food production to those of hunger, it becomes clear that Africa actually produces more than enough to feed itself. It is therefore time to change the focus of the conversation from food production to optimising what is being produced for the good of all.

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