Africa losses between 30–50% of its food, an amount that could feed up to 300 million people.

Innovation is Key to Curbing Post-Harvest Losses in Africa

Approximately one-third of food grown across the world never reaches the plates of consumers. For a region where under and malnutrition accounts for over 28% of all deaths annually (nearly 3 million people), Africa cannot afford to waste its food. Food waste in the region has also resulted to the continent relying on imports spending up to $35 billion in foreign currency annually, a figure that is set to rise to over $100 billion per year by 2030.

There is no current data on the amount of food that is lost but FAO estimates from 2011 suggest that as much as 37% of food produced in Sub-Saharan Africa is lost between production and consumption. Fruit and vegetable losses are estimated to be 50% or more. According to the UN, if food wasted in Africa was saved instead, it could feed about 300 million people and also significantly reduce on food imports. Additionally, post-harvest losses reduce the income of the continent’s farmers and value chain actors that depend on farmers by about 15 per cent.

Solving for major causes of food waste such as intermittent power supplies, poor storage facilities, poor infrastructure, lack or poor access to markets, and poor coordination among the actors in the supply chains, is extremely crucial to ensure food security in the region. Just like how innovation has solved for financial inclusion in the region through mobile money, innovation is also key to curbing post-harvest losses in Africa. Many technologies and innovations have been developed to address the various causes of food losses in the region. However, adoption of the same is low partly because people are not aware of them or cannot afford them.

How innovation is solving for lack of storage in the region

Lack of or intermittent power supplies and poor storage facilities mean that foods produced in the region are too often lost after being harvested, and before they arrive at market. His family having suffered from heavy economic losses due to food waste, Lawrence Okettayot — a Ugandan engineering graduate — invented a dehydration machine to curb food wastage. The Sparky Dryer, as he and his colleagues call it, runs on biofuel from a farmer’s garden, which burns with zero-carbon emissions to dehydrate the farmer’s chosen produce, be it mangoes, guavas, pineapples or even cereals such as maize and sorghum. The dryers, at prices starting at $80, provide efficient means to dry foods and can dehydrate 10kg of mango in two hours running on 2kg of biofuel. The price starts at $80 and could go higher depending on the farmers’ specifications.

Unreliable electricity in the region means that many small-scale farmers have limited or no access to cold storage facilities for their produce. Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, a Nigerian entrepreneur, solves this problem by creating walk-in, mobile, solar-powered storage hubs that extends life of food up to 21 days. Dotted across the country in various farms and markets, Ikegwuonu’s ColdHubs operate a simple pay-as-you-store model, where farmers and retailers pay 100 Nairas (equivalent to $0.50) to store one crate per day. Ikegwuonu estimates that farmers reduce their losses by 80% using ColdHubs, primarily because they have more stock to sell.

Solving for infrastructure problems using innovative solutions

Most of the post-harvest losses happens during transport from the farm to the market. Delays, bribes, unforeseen costs such as breakdown of vehicles due to bad road pavement conditions are some of the problems that are experienced during transportation of food produce. CHEETAH Smartphone Application, works by crowdsourcing trade barriers by value-chain players whiles transporting the goods. It provides information flow between road users and helps one to determine the duration of transport and duration since harvest, and how the crops have been decaying. This app makes the driver aware of what is happening and also inform traders who want to use the same corridors to prevent same challenges because maybe the issue is still not solved.

Integrated solutions that tackle multiple causes of the problem — improved storage, access to markets and financing, farmer knowledge — are urgently needed.

According to the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), single technologies or financing schemes often prove insufficient to address such a multifaceted challenge; many actors across-agricultural value chains contribute to widespread food loss. This means that there is a need for integrated innovation solutions in the continent to achieve the greatest impact. To achieve this, GKI sourced over 200 innovations already in use, engaged 240 global experts, hosted 8 creative design sessions in 7 countries to test over a dozen integrated innovation solution sets. This informed Rockefeller Foundation’s decision to invest $130 million and take forward these innovative solutions through their new, 7-year program called “Yieldwise”.

A Sino-African specialist and thought leader in the intersectionality between innovation and Africa's informal economy.

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