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Waste Less, Feed More

Photo credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)
Photo credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

African agriculture has undergone a great transformation over the last decade. Access to financing, mobile technology, and advanced farming techniques has greatly increased yields for small-holder farmers, even though there is still much work to be done in each of these and other areas.

Indeed, many believe that Africa’s Green Revolution—something we’ve been working for a decade to bring about—may be on the horizon. But, if African agriculture is truly going to reach its full potential, we need to confront a stark reality: one-third of the food produced never reaches a table.

“One-third of the food produced never reaches a table.”

Whether it’s due to a lack of storage options or barriers to market, post-harvest loss represents a 15 percent loss in incomes for small-holder farmers, not to mention the implications on food security, which means vulnerable populations are hit twice. Two colliding trends are only going to accelerate the challenge:

  • A rising global population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Now more than ever, small holder farmers need better market connections, both to improve their own livelihoods, and to help ensure a food supply to feed 9 billion.
  • The growing threat of climate change. Changing rainfall and weather patterns, including more intense droughts, will require new solutions to keep production at pace.


More people to feed, plus more complications for small holder farmers, only accelerates the need to eliminate food loss from this equation. And it’s critical to our dual goals: to ensure vulnerable communities can be resilient in the face of climate change, but also to advance more inclusive economies where smallholder farmers can fully benefit from the economic progress we see happening across Africa.

Purdue Improved Crop Storage (​PICS) bags reduce food loss to insect infestations through the use of inexpensive, plastic grain-storage bags.
Purdue Improved Crop Storage (​PICS) bags reduce food loss to insect infestations through the use of inexpensive, plastic grain-storage bags. Photo credit: IITA

The good news is that there are already many promising models for action upon which we can build. Earlier this year, our grantee Global Knowledge Initiative hosted social innovation workshops focused on triple bottom line impact: increased incomes, enhanced nutrition, and positive environmental benefits—for 2 million or more smallholder farmers. Participants included agricultural and financing experts, and small-holder farmers themselves, from Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, and together they uncovered 590 distinct opportunities to reduce post-harvest loss and more than 200 innovations already in use. From there we identified 10 “big wins”—from reducing financial risk, to scaling the use of innovative storage, processing, and handling technologies.

“Just because solutions exist does not mean they are currently reaching the farmers who need them.”

But just because solutions exist does not mean they are currently reaching the farmers who need them. With the farmer in mind, we are exploring a variety of interventions in the areas of education, technologies, financing and market solutions to ensure production is linked to demand.

For example, we are a proud supporter of Shamba Shape Up—a reality show that brings staff from Africa’s agricultural ministries to teach farmers proper storage techniques. In one episode, Christina a maize farmer, learns how to tell when her crops are ready for storage (take a bite out of a kernel; if you can’t crack it, store it!), and then put it in an air tight plastic container to keep the weevils out.

But we need other solutions that don’t require a “farm-by-farm” approach. That’s where the private sector will be so critical.

Private Sector Led Solutions - PHL
By seeking cost-effective reliable sources of local food supply, for example, local, regional, and multi-national food and beverage companies can create an unprecedented opportunity to link farmers to more reliable demand, and build a market infrastructure within which post-harvest loss could be more effectively addressed.

To ensure this happens, we need leadership and partnerships across sectors—government, academia, development, and the private sector. Just as we have come together to help boost yields for framers, we all have a role to play to ensure that farmers can sell more of what they grow—and that food gets to the people who need it.

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