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A Waste of Watermelon and a Toolkit To Help End Food Loss

Amos Kisilu — Former Associate

I grew up in a small farm in eastern Kenya. My family planted various crops, hoping to boost our income. On one occasion, an extension agent brought us some seeds in a sophisticated package. I later learnt from my mother that they were watermelon seeds.

“Plant these; they will make you rich,” the extension agent said. But when the harvest was ready and we reached out to the agent, he told us there was no market. We also could not sell the watermelon in the village – this was a new fruit and many had not acquired its taste.

Watermelon became our breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a delicacy for our livestock.

As we began implementing the YieldWise Initiative, the watermelon experience continued to reverberate. It reminded me that farmers lose their harvest for many reasons: lack of markets, inadequate storage, transportation or available processing equipment, and limited access to financing, among others.

Wasted food represents wasted resources. Almost 17% of our freshwater supply goes to producing food that is later thrown away. As trash, it takes up 20% of our landfills, where it emits tons of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The YieldWise initiative began in 2016. Over the years, we developed training materials, research on technologies, communication content including videos and radio programs, and broader lessons in post-harvest management. We integrated these resources to develop the Post Harvest Management ToolKit as a resource guide for researchers, scholars and practitioners who work directly with farmers.

Addressing food loss requires transforming the whole food system. However, accessing markets remains an important solution in reducing post-harvest loss. The toolkit emphasizes this and includes informal markets and cottage industries. Farmers who have access to markets can invest their returns in technologies.

– by Betty Kibaara, Director, Food Initiative, Africa Region Office, The Rockefeller Foundation

Grain Loss Despite Hard Work, and Then Came Improved Processing and Storage

As a young boy, I spent holidays in the countryside with my grandparents. During the harvesting season, I joined my uncles, aunts and cousins in carrying sacks of maize from the farm to the homestead. We would dry the maize on the ground for a few days and then thresh the maize from the cobs by hitting the sacks with big sticks.

This was a tiring job. Sometimes the sacks would tear and grain would pour on the ground. Feast-time for the chickens, but huge food losses for us.

The threshed grain would be stored in sacks or, if sacks were not available, big gourds. Sometimes by the following season, the grain would be spoiled by weevils. It was very painful for my grandmother to discard that grain; this could have been food for many.

Fast forward and now my grandmother and my entire family can afford to smile. One villager has invested in a thresher. Not only is it faster, but it costs less. My family can afford to buy hermetic bags, and my grandmother does not lose grain, even if it is stored for more than four months.

This toolkit provides production, processing and storage guides for diverse cereals, tubers, vegetables and fruit. It offers evidence and learnings of proven solutions to reduce food losses, shortening the learning curve for those investing in the fight to reduce food loss.

– by Amos Kisilu, former Associate for The Rockefeller Foundation


Let’s Collect and Preserve the Advice of Experts

During my formative years growing up, my father was an agriculture extension officer. He worked largely with smallholder farmers in central Kenya to provide agronomy support. When I began working on the YieldWise initiative, I went to him for counsel.

While speaking to him and other experts, I realized that they had a wealth of information that remained with them instead of gathered together in a single place and reaching the community.

The toolkit is about making sure that everyone who works in this sector can access resources and guidance to help advise them on decision-making, and that future investors can also leverage The Rockefeller Foundation’s past work.

It is difficult for me to select my favorite area in the toolkit. However, two areas I am passionate about are the how-to guides that offer the steps to build technologies such as the charcoal cooler and zero energy cooling chambers, and the section on communication that includes training materials and messaging that can be used in various ways.

The toolkit for is a useful resource, and at the same time, an honest reflection on what others can do to advance this important work.

– by Kagwiria Koome, Program Manager, the Food Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation