Equity, Climate Justice and Food Security: Re-Indigenizing Horticulture and Reducing Smallholder Farmer Food Loss and Waste
Food loss and waste undermines principles of climate justice and exacerbates food insecurity; squandering human and natural resources, denying already vulnerable populations access to nutritious foods and contributing greenhouse gas emissions that are detrimental to all. Last year, approximately 753 million people faced hunger in the world. And yet, in the United States alone, 119 billion pounds of food (130 billion meals) was wasted, equaling to over $408 billion in food thrown away each year. With increasing populations, shrinking arable land and the harmful effects of climate change reverberating across the globe, hunger and food security have become inextricably tied to climate justice, and addressing them, a moral imperative not just for a few, but all.
To build a more resilient and equitable food system, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture focuses on reducing postharvest loss and waste through the empowerment of local actors and to revitalize Indigenous knowledge, in order to unlock the full potential of climate change-adaptive and micro-nutrient rich African indigenous vegetables and fruit (AIVFs) species. Through both domestic and international education and research on effective postharvest management, the global team advances smallholder farmer-to-consumer accessibility, thus increasing the availability, marketability and value of these currently undervalued, yet vital, health commodities. This enables AIVF producers and traders — the majority of whom are women — to earn sustainable incomes and provide their families with more nutritional diets.
Further emphasis on the importance of climate justice and the restoration of Indigenous wisdom was made during a Horticulture Innovation Lab-led panel discussion on underutilized AIVFs at the 4th All Africa Postharvest Congress and Exhibition (AAPCE), when a participant stated, “The benefits of our indigenous fruits and vegetables are not a secret; they are a timeless gift waiting to be cherished, nourished and shared with the world.” This side event, led by Regional Hub managers Dr. Peninah Yumbya and Dr. Freda Asem, featured speakers and panelists, including doctors Yumbya, Naalamle Amissah and Gloria Essilfie, and professors Willis Owino and Arnold Mathew Opiyo, who highlighted strategies to reduce loss and waste through value addition, capacity strengthening, low-cost cold chain technologies and improved packaging.
Considering accessibility, equity and inclusion for low- and middle-income region learners unable to attend courses in-person, the Horticulture Innovation Lab partnered with the University of California Postharvest Technology Center to offer the one-week live and recorded online short course: Postharvest Solutions for Small and Evolving Operations. The course was designed to help small-scale producers improve postharvest outcomes, and covered critical postharvest topics, such as management guidelines for specific commodities, ripening and proper implementation of cold and dry chains. Virtual guest speakers ranged from academics such as professor Jane Ambuko from the University of Nairobi in Kenya, to entrepreneurs such as Damber Khanal from R&D Innovative Solutions in Nepal. With over 100 attending, engagement was high, consisting of stakeholders in the horticulture sector in the United States as well as regions across the globe where the Horticulture Innovation Lab performs research. Dr. Erin McGuire noted the course to be “a great exchange of expertise from around the globe and allowed attendees to share perspectives on challenges and opportunities they face in their respective countries.”
Climate justice and food security is achievable through intentional action focused on ensuring representation and inclusion for those most vulnerable to climate change. Recognizing this, the Horticulture Innovation Lab prioritizes research focused on improving postharvest management outcomes to reduce food loss and waste, increasing healthy and nutritious food accessibility and promoting equitable and inclusive research, educational and entrepreneurial opportunities at a global scale. With research projects located in Guatemala, Ghana, Mali, Uganda and Kenya investigating causes of loss in horticulture crops and finding solutions to address them, the team also supports 11 DryCard entrepreneurs operating in 12 different countries to provide a low-cost dryness indicator, helping farmers know when their product is safely dried for storage and stored dry. With postharvest losses estimated to be 30% or higher in horticulture crops, there is significant demand for further research and collaboration. The Horticulture Innovation Lab anticipates outcomes from their portfolio of locally led research projects to provide postharvest solutions for small-scale producers and traders to reduce food loss and waste, while transforming food systems and community-led approaches both locally and beyond.