UN calls for better grain storage to reduce Africa’s post-harvest losses

31 May 2011
Maize crib used as a sack store for dried grain by rendering the sides rainproof and fitting rat guards to the legs, Nigeria

Large amounts of food in sub-Saharan Africa goes to waste as a result of inappropriate storage, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a report unveiled today, which calls for investing in post-harvest technologies to reduce to the losses and boost the continent’s food security.

The joint FAO-World Bank report, entitled Missing Food: The Case of Postharvest Grain Losses in Sub-Saharan Africa, estimates the value of grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa at around $4 billion a year.

“This lost food could meet the minimum annual food requirements of at least 48 million people,” said Maria Helena Semedo, the FAO Assistant Director-General. “If we agree that sustainable agricultural systems need to be developed to feed 9 billion people by 2050, addressing waste across the entire food chain must be a critical pillar of future national food strategies,” she said.

According to estimates provided by the African Postharvest Losses Information System, physical grain losses prior to processing can range from 10 to 20 per cent of African annual production, which is worth $27 billion.

Losses occur when grain decays or is infested by pests, fungi or microbes, and physical losses, but the waste can also be economic, resulting from low prices and lack of access to markets for poor quality or contaminated grain.

According to the report, food losses contribute to high food prices by removing part of the food supply from the market. They also have a negative environmental impact as land, water and resources such as fertilizer and energy are used to produce, process, handle and transport food that no one consumes.

“Reducing food losses is increasingly recognized as part of an integrated approach to realizing agriculture’s full potential, along with making effective use of today’s crops, improving productivity on existing farmland, and sustainably bringing additional acreage into production,” said Jamal Saghir, the Director of the Sustainable Development Department of the World Bank’s Africa Region.

A variety of practices and technologies are available for reducing post-harvest losses, including crop “protectants” and storage containers such as hermetically sealed bags and metallic silos, the report notes.

Those technologies have proved successful in Asia, but more research is needed to identify methods adapted to local environments in Africa. To succeed, interventions must be sensitive to local conditions and practices.

The report recommends that governments create enabling conditions for farmers by reducing market transaction costs through investing in infrastructure such as roads, electricity and water, and strengthening agricultural research and extension services.


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