Stakeholders in the agricultural sector are seeking ways to develop post-harvest technologies to cut food losses and wastage in a region where some 10 million people are facing starvation as a result of drought. Even when farmers produce bumper harvests, hunger due to wastage follows often, impacting on the region’s nutritional levels and food security, analysts say.
“We are at a point where post-harvest losses should be treated with the same seriousness as national security. This is because it is a strategic tool for food security and a catalyst for agribusiness,” said James Shikwati, director of the Nairobi-based non-governmental organisation, Inter Region Economic Network. IREN is conducting the inaugural East Africa Post-harvest Technologies Competition 2017 to spur innovations aimed at reducing food losses and wastage in Africa.
In March, the University of Nairobi will also hold the first All Africa Post-Harvest Congress, under the theme, Reducing Food Losses and Waste: Sustainable Solutions for Africa.
While the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that one-third or 1.3 billion metric tonnes of the food produced for human consumption globally is lost or wasted along supply chains, the problem is endemic in Africa. The continent loses about $4 billion in food waste annually due to poor storage facilities, market inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the value chain.
Ironically, despite millions of tonnes of food going to waste, Africa continues to be a net food importer, with the food import bill currently standing at $35 billion. It is projected to hit a whopping $110 billion in a decade, according to data from the African Development Bank.
In East Africa, it is estimated that on average, the region spends the equivalent of 24 percent of its export earnings on food imports.
“Food losses and waste negatively impact food security, nutrition and economic stability due to the huge food import bill,” said Dr Jane Ambuko, senior lecturer and head of horticulture at the Department of Plant Science and Crop Protection, University of Nairobi.
The need to invest in post-harvest technologies is becoming more urgent due to the rising urbanisation and the fact that the majority of countries on the continent are pursuing agriculture-led industrialisation and development. According to Dr Shikwati, as more people move to urban areas, the need to develop technologies to preserve food becomes paramount. “Urbanisation is sending the signal that if we cannot preserve food, we will always be prone to hunger,” he said.
It is projected that by 2050, some 1.4 billion people or 58 percent of Africa’s population will be living in urban areas.