Our global food system is facing a quiet crisis—one-third of all food produced is never consumed while 1.2 billion people go to bed hungry or under-nourished, and global economic losses mount into the trillions.
We will let this crisis build quietly no more.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, I joined with our President Rodin to formally launch YieldWise, a $130 million initiative to demonstrate how the world can cut food waste and loss by half by 2030. This is the next chapter of The Rockefeller Foundation’s agriculture and food security work, which has spanned more than a century and several continents—from seeding the Green Revolution that fed a billion people across Asia and South America in the 1950s and 60s, to the work of the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA) (in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), over the last decade.
“In Africa, 50 percent of fruits and vegetables, 40 percent of roots and tubers, and 20 percent of cereals—all of which are staple foods—are lost in the post-harvest stage or processes.”
While food waste and loss is a global problem, we will be focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 percent of the people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and many of whom are also part of the world’s 1.3 billion who are food insecure. Here, 50 percent of fruits and vegetables, 40 percent of roots and tubers, and 20 percent of cereals—all of which are staple foods—are lost in the post-harvest stage or processes. As such, these vulnerable people are twice-hit.
For instance, take Sella, a potato farmer in Central Kenya. She refused to take a price for her potatoes that was so low that she wouldn’t break even on her investment in farming them—but because she lacked important market information, she failed to garner a better price. In the end, the potatoes simply spoiled—at great cost to Sella, and to the people who could have eaten the potatoes.
Sella’s lack of information, market opportunities, technologies, and access to alternative markets are, unfortunately, a familiar story for millions of farmers.
Over the last three years, we have explored interventions as part of our ongoing work to strengthen African farmers like Sella. We learned that there are many existing solutions—yet these solutions were not reaching smallholder farmers. We are dedicated to re-aligning actors and interventions, such as expanding proven technologies that preserve crops in harvest, packaging, and distribution, empowering them to protect themselves against crop loss and defending their livelihoods for years to come. This technological innovation and training will begin at mango farms in Kenya, maize farms in Tanzania, and cassava and tomato farms in Nigeria—nations that rely on agriculture to fuel growth, but where 40 percent are now lost between harvest and the market. These crop-saving techniques can also increase farmer incomes by 15 percent, giving them the chance to contribute to their local economies through increased consumer spending. Greater efficiency at the farm level will also increase the availability of nutritious food in local markets for families who don’t now have access to them.
But our work through YieldWise will go far beyond direct help to farmers. We also will drive collaboration across sectors and encourage investment from all actors throughout the food system, including partnerships with some of the world’s most recognized brands. New purchase agreements with large food buyers such as Coca-Cola—a collaborator of The Rockefeller Foundation—are allowing farmers to quickly sell their crops to a guaranteed buyer without the burden of frequent travel to oversaturated, and sometimes distant, local markets. Dangote Group—another Rockefeller Foundation collaborator—is working with the government of Nigeria to build a tomato processing industry to use tomatoes that would otherwise rot without access to cold storage. Further, Rockefeller Foundation grantee Pyxera is helping farmers identify and grow diverse tomato varieties that are in demand by both consumers and processors. In tandem, these two programs will diversify farmers’ buyer bases, allowing them to sell more, reduce loss, and increase profits.
Our work in Africa will directly impact the continent, encouraging the growth of local agriculture economies, protecting smallholder farmers and decreasing food insecurity. But the effects of that work will be felt far beyond Africa, as we make targeted investments in industrialized countries to reduce food loss that happens at the retail level, and demonstrate that is possible to reduce food waste and loss all over the world.
Tell us your strategies for cutting food waste and loss for the benefit of people, planet, and profit using the hashtag #YieldWise.