Post Harvest losses: Africa loses food valued at $4b annually

Ms. Anne Mbaabu Director of Markets at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) An  international workshop on post-harvest losses rose from it meeting in Kenya last week with a report that Africa loses  food  valued at over USD 4 billion dollars every year  as a result  of post-harvest inefficiencies across the staples agricultural value chain.

Ms. Anne Mbaabu Director of Markets at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) called on governments to urgently invest in systems that will lead to a huge reduction in post-harvest losses and increase income levels of actors across various agricultural value chains.

“Post-harvest losses significantly endanger the livelihoods of stakeholders across the value chain by reducing valuable incomes and profitability,” Ms. Mbaabu said. “Research has shown that a reduction of just one per cent in post-harvest losses can lead to a gain of USD 40 million annually. Imagine the impact if we are to reduce the losses by just two per cent,” she said.

Participants at the meeting hosted by 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. They 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,” she 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 workshop 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 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.

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.”

Meanwhile, Malawi’s Principal Secretary for Gender, Dr. Mary Shawa has said that Africa urgently needs to find ways of scaling up the involvement of women in various agricultural value chains if the continent is to reduce poverty among its smallholder farmers.

Speaking at an international conference on Gender in Lilongwe, Dr. Shawa said that the African agriculture sector can only achieve its full potential if the important role played by women in agricultural value chains was acknowledged, appreciated and supported.

“While value addition to crops in our countries remains a problem, the role of women in it remains very minimal. We need a systematic approach in training and building the capacity of women in both agricultural production and the value chain process”, said Dr. Shawa, adding that loan schemes have to be tailor made to help women take an active role in agri-value chain.

The five day conference, which was organized by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), brings together organizations from Kenya, Zambia and Malawi. Participants include practitioners and researchers working on gender and agricultural value chains to facilitate the identification of common ground, and learning and knowledge sharing of successful approaches in strengthening gender in agriculture value chains.

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