As the global development community grapples with an ambitious, but indisputably necessary goal—feeding 9 billion people by the year 2050—the need for an integrated approach to agriculture development has never been more apparent. One of the biggest, most stubborn hurdles is food loss: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that up to a third of food grown in developing countries is lost before it reaches consumers. Practitioners, policymakers, and funders have the opportunity to address some of the challenges that lead to food loss, and to enhance existing best practices. The encouraging success of India’s agricultural development sector offers particularly valuable lessons to other developing regions, including Africa, where small land-holders and others are acutely affected by poverty and food insecurity.
“Up to one-third of food grown in developing countries is lost before it reaches consumers.”
According to the World Bank, more than 60 percent of people in India and across Africa rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Yet over the past 50 years, millions of Indians have been lifted out of poverty through government innovation in agricultural products, processes, and services. In order to glean from that success, The Rockefeller Foundation supported Leaders’ Quest, a social enterprise specializing in experiential learning, to bring together a cross-sector group of predominately Africa-focused food and agriculture experts and stakeholders to undertake a week long learning journey to India, hoping to find out more about the country’s success. They team included international development practitioners, financial, technology and agriculture investors, food and agriculture companies, academic institutions, and agriculture and farmer focused institutions.
Key takeaways and insights from the journey:
Many innovative technologies already exist. For instance, Science for Society India has designed business models and low-cost innovations including a movable solar grain drier that can reduce harvest drying times to just one day. There are no operating costs, and its mobility allows sharing between farms. It’s also low maintenance and can be built locally.
Simplicity matters for culture and sustainability. Farmers around the world want simple solutions that fit into their community’s existing culture. For example, the use of hermetic storage bags—triple-layered storage bags that protect grains from infestation—has successfully reduced food loss in parts of India. Their use requires little training, and farmers quickly see the economic benefit of storing grain at home and waiting until it can be sold for the highest possible price.
Mobile reaches millions. A venture promoted and supported by Thomson Reuters—Reuters Market Light (RML)—provides highly localized and customized agricultural and market information via SMS to 1.4 million Indian farmers across 50,000 villages. Its text alerts cover localized weather forecasts, crop advice, local market data and crop prices, and relevant policy and national/international news.
From many markets to one. Small-scale producer aggregation plays a vital role in boosting market access and reducing food loss. This is demonstrated by Yuva Mitra Agro (an Indian agri-consultancy and producer company), which gives equity to member farmers and offers inputs, training, and information to smallholder food producers. Experience shows that this goes a long way towards making agriculture a profitable venture for small and marginal farmers. One example of its support offering is the Devnadi Valley Agricultural Producers Company, a 550-farmer-strong organization that buys farm inputs at bulk rates for its members. Devnadi will soon open retail outlets to sell crops and packaged food directly to consumers, and member farmers will share costs and profits in proportion to how much food they contribute.
Governments can pave the way for reducing food loss, but are sometimes part of the problem.While the Indian government has played an active role in food security, there’s room for more strategic involvement. Today, it maintains a level of operational and buffer stocks of grains in warehouses and distributes as needed. But there’s more help the government can provide, especially around waste among these stocks. Other possible interventions include paving bad roads, increasing access to wholesale markets, and simplifying the bureaucracy surrounding food distribution, export and import. In this area, Africa can also learn from instances in Asia, tactics like these have successfully ensured that food reaches the market more quickly.