Africa Business Communities

[Column] Bob Koigi: Why Africa should pay more attention to recommendations of just concluded Post harvest conference

Kenya recently hosted the continent to a first of its kind meet, to deliberate the biting concern of food lost after harvest, a gathering that came with life changing recommendations capable of taming a situation blamed for over 40 per cent of all food lost in Africa.

Themed ‘Reducing Postharvest Food Losses: Sustainable Solutions for Africa’ the meet set  to provide a platform where technology developers and promoters could interact with potential users, sponsors and policy makers with an ultimate goal of scaling up for wider adoption in an enabling policy environment.

Success stories of technologies, practices, strategies and policies that have worked to reduce food losses in the African context were on display.

The congress was timely for Africa. Studies have shown that Africa loses food valued at over $4 billion dollars every year as a result of post-harvest inefficiencies across the staples agricultural value chain. In fact post harvest losses are classified as one of the biggest areas in food waste which has become a global concern even as millions still go hungry.

From aflatoxin infested maize, to spoilt milk and wheat, the scale of post-harvest food loss in Africa is tragic. Nearly one-third of agricultural production never makes it to the consumer or arrives in poor condition. Beyond the threat to food security, post-harvest losses adversely affect farmers and consumers in the lowest income groups. And, post-harvest food losses are a waste of valuable farming inputs, such as water, energy, land, labor, and capital. 

Yet numerous studies have shown that a reduction of just one per cent in post-harvest losses can lead to a gain of $40 million annually. Imagine the impact if we are to reduce the losses by just two per cent.

Majority of African countries have experienced tremendous improvements in key staples productivity like maize.. However, postharvest losses of up to 40 percent of the harvested grain pose great challenges to attaining food security, as about 80 percent of Africans live in rural areas and derive their livelihoods mostly from agricultural activities.

With maize being the main staple crop and agriculture the cornerstone of most of these African economies, postharvest losses also pose a challenge to the economic development of the country.

It is open secret how the storing of maize without proper drying has not only created massive losses due to the deadly aflatoxin fungus, but also responsible for hundreds of deaths from unsuspecting people after eating highly contaminated maize.

It is pointless to heavily invest in good agricultural practices, attain high yields, and lose 40 percent of it. Feeding the continent does not only require increased production but also a safeguard of all that is produced.

We cannot afford to continue importing maize, for this is a very expensive and unsustainable affair. Money for development is used to import food that we could have easily safeguarded with appropriate technologies.

That is why the display of phenomenal low cost technologies like hermetic storage bags at the Post harvest conference deserves applause.

It was heartwarming to hear how ordinary farmers who the continent relies on as engines of economic growth are insulating themselves from voracious pests and diseases with such creative technologies.

Support for these farmers irrespective of how small it is would go along way in motivating even more farmers to such revolutionary food saving mechanisms.

Meeting the food demands of an ever-increasing world population presents a major challenge for the 21st century.

Among the most important and efficient ways to improve food security, nutrition, and incomes for millions of small farmers is to make certain that every grain of maize, bushel of wheat, liter of milk, or kilogram of rice that is produced is stored properly and delivered efficiently from farm to fork.

Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor East Africa at Africa Business Communities


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