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New Innovations to Reduce Harvest Loss in Africa

Malaysia workshop

Approximately one-third of food grown across the world never reaches the plates of consumers. The significant amount of food waste and spoilage occurring across the value chain threatens farmers’ livelihoods; people’s access to nutritious food; and vital, limited resources like land and water. Many promising approaches to reducing food loss exist, including hermetic storage devices, good agricultural practices for harvesting and sorting crops, plastic crates for transporting produce, and others. However, issues related to access, affordability, adoption, and awareness of these practices and technologies inhibit the scale at which they make an impact.

Against this backdrop, the Rockefeller Foundation is exploring techniques to ensure that two million African smallholder farmers have greater income and economic opportunities, improved resilience, and increased food and nutritional security through reduced post-harvest loss in the food crop value chain. The Foundation has partnered with the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) to perform a global scan of post-harvest food loss innovations to better understand the breadth of solutions available and identify persistent barriers to scaling those solutions

Group Sitting

Between November 2013 and January 2014, GKI facilitated inquiry-driven workshops in six countries—Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, and the United States. Gathering together a range of food value chain actors, including producers, exporters, researchers, policymakers, and others, GKI asked participants to draw on their varied experiences to provide insights on how the global community might significantly mitigate post harvest loss in Africa.

Across the six workshops, over 120 participants identified more than 600 ideas for reducing post harvest food loss in Africa. Through interactive sessions, participants narrowed those ideas down to 50 promising innovations, or potential “big wins.” The workshops generated a wide range of insights that will be used to optimize efforts to mitigate the burden of food loss for poor and vulnerable people. In Kenya, for example, participants acknowledged that viable technologies and approaches for reducing post harvest loss exist, but a lack of farmer knowledge of and robust supply chains for available solutions hamper access to and adoption of these solutions. Participants in Ghana echoed this insight, noting that transformation is not necessarily about creating “new” innovations, but more effectively coordinating the available resources and players.

Proper handling of crops—and other good agricultural practices—can help reduce food loss.

Significant reductions in food loss can be made, for example, by improving farmers’ use of good agricultural practices, such as for proper handling of horticulture crops. However, inadequate extension efforts and information from potential buyers limit the degree to which farmers are aware of and actively implementing these practices. Participants throughout the sessions noted unique approaches to transferring knowledge across the value chain on tools and approaches for reducing post harvest loss. Two specific communication platforms include the use of videos via cell phones that demonstrate how to use hermetic storage devices and hand-held radios that transfer agricultural challenges and solutions in local languages. These approaches have a common design element: putting the farmer at the center of the communication strategy to overcome traditional barriers to awareness building such as literacy rates and local languages.

In February 2014, GKI began a global resource assessment of the most promising opportunities identified across the six countries and beyond. The assessment will highlight the resources—technologies, experts, knowledge—available and needed to overcome the barriers to scaling post-harvest solutions.

GKI is an international nonprofit organization with the mission of stimulating collaborative networks to solve development challenges pertinent to science, technology, and innovation. With operations in Africa, South Asia, and the US, GKI helps researchers, entrepreneurs, and others locate resources critical for problem solving; enable effective collaboration by building skills and designing shared agendas; and connect resources and partners into durable networks; all to solve pressing development challenges.

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