But we already knew that, right?
Food loss is and can be both voluntary and involuntary, meaning we either cause it knowingly or circumstances that we live in mean that we lose food to climate change or back luck, yes, there is something like bad luck in farming too
Food loss/food waste is the blindspot in our fight against hunger, and farmers in the developing world experience food loss through post harvest handling. Poor handling and lack of proper storage means that most food is wasted even before it gets to the market. Supposedly, a whooping 64% of food is lost before it gets to market despite the fact that technological solutions are available. This is both tragic and unnecessary. Technological solutions? are these evenly distributed, who can afford these solutions especially if they are electronic, and are there cheaper solutions?
The global food system already produces enough food for everyone. But 24% of all calories destined for human consumption never end up in tummies, according to the World Resources Institute. In the developing world 64% of food is lost before it is processed or transported to markets. In sub-Saharan Africa alone this costs farms $4bn a year. In a world where 800 million people are undernourished this is both tragic and unnecessary.
Rich countries waste food, while poor countries lose it. In Africa politics, policies, and climate change all affect food production and availability, where periodic droughts and political upheavals have left millions hungry. These are long-term problems that will require long-term solutions. But there are concrete steps we can take right now to bolster Africa’s food security, starting with proven technological interventions.
Basic solar-powered processing equipment can be transformative. Every day in markets across Africa fruits wilt and rots under the blazing sun. That same sun can power a cold room or a mango juice plant owned and staffed vendors.
At Malo, a social enterprise founded to mill, fortify and market rice cultivated by local smallholder farmers in Mali, we are looking at proposals to use solar energy to power equipment which could reduce food loss. Elsewhere in Mali, cattle farmers are using solar energy to power refrigerators to store their milk.
Given that the biggest food losses occur on farms, this is where we should begin to solve the problem. For subsistence farmers, support and advice from farmer education services and farming cooperatives improves their ability to withstand economic and climate shocks and maximize their potential.
New and existing cooperatives need to make modern harvesting tools and robust crop disease and pest management systems standard offerings for their members. These improvements would bolster traditional benefits of cooperatives, such as reducing input costs, increasing market access, and obtaining more favorable credit terms.
For commercial farms, regardless of size, putting trained and motivated employees on the team is essential. However, finding qualified workers is a challenge that needs to be overcome.
Creating schools and incubators with curricula and programmes that educate farm workers, farm managers, and farm owners can both address the challenge of ensuring universal education while providing career opportunities for young people. A better educated farm workforce would be better able to prevent or mitigate food loss whether it is by identifying crop diseases early and knowing how to treat them or planning and executing appropriate logistics and distribution operations.
To be sure, tackling the issue of food loss is costly, complex and requires more than just training farm workers and leveraging solar energy. With a growing middle class in Africa, it is essential that the food saved by modernising supply chains doesn’t end up in being thrown away by businesses and consumers, whose consumption habits often mimic those of the developed world.
As soon as that begins to happen we must work to reduce grocery and household food waste. We should investigate the potential of Fenugreen’s Fresh Paper, a spice-infused paper said to increase the shelf life of produce.
Taken together, small improvements at farms and in the kitchen can achieve real results and cut food waste and food loss across the developing world.
Increasing yields and bringing more land under cultivation will remain important to feeding a growing population. But ensuring we eat everything we already grow could quickly reduce the burden we place on our planet as we figure out longer term strategies for coping with climate change and other food security threats.
As 2015 approaches and world leaders begin to think about how to implement the sustainable development goals on hunger, they could do much worse than adopt this mantra: to feed the world tomorrow, let’s eat what we grow today.