How Reducing Post-Harvest Loss Creates Resilient Communities
In developing countries, as much as one-third of a season’s harvest is lost along the value chain from harvest to consumption. For grain alone, more is lost in sub-Saharan Africa to post-harvest losses (FAO estimates $4 billion annually) than all U.S. overseas food aid combined (~$2.5 billion annually). Losses are much larger for nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy, due to their perishable nature and lack of appropriate cold chains (e.g., cold storage, transport). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 aims to halve per capita global food waste by 2030. Loss comes in many forms throughout the value chain, including insect infestation, mycotoxin contamination (toxins from contaminating fungi) and lack of cold chain capabilities, to name a few. Each of these can be addressed through targeted research for development and capacity building, improving food security, safety, and nutritional quality.
Agriculture is a risky business; farmers face uncertainty from weather, the economy, pest and disease outbreaks, health and nutrition detractors, and other unforeseen challenges. In the face of such uncertainty, creating resilience — an ability to withstand and recover from shocks — is vital. Reducing losses after hard-won harvests is a key piece of these efforts. Proper drying and storage of durably stored product crops reduces the length and severity of the “hunger season” between harvests and keeps families healthier due to increased availability of adequate, nutritious, and safe food. Improved safety includes from mycotoxins, pathogens and pesticide residues, which can have negative health and economic impacts.
Now more than ever, tools to increase the resiliency of small-holders farmers and others in the agricultural value chain are critical. That is why this month, on Agrilinks, we will focus on the many ways in which reducing post-harvest loss helps create and preserve resilient, healthy communities.
We will explore innovative initiatives that contribute to reduced post-harvest loss while simultaneously improving economic opportunity for smallholder farmers. We will delve into systems approaches to reducing loss in food systems and building capacity to secure the harvest across Feed the Future countries. We will highlight strategies for crisis and risk communication, for threats requiring forward preparation, and immediate and adaptable responses. Virtual extension systems will be featured through Scientific Animations Without Borders. Knowing that women are the main force behind post-harvest activities, and are key to improving livelihoods, we will look at how gender impacts post-harvest loss interventions. At the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss, we believe that capacity building is a foundational component of creating resilient communities; we include human and institutional capacity building at each stage of the food chain that we interact with, from farmers to small business to national research systems to policy makers. All the while, we continuously learn more about potential threats to and solutions for U.S. agriculture.
This is a small sample of the important and inspiring work being done to reduce post-harvest loss around the globe. Much more will be shared over the course of this month, and we hope this conversation continues long after. We also welcome you to submit posts on this topic and to participate through the Agrilinks comments section or your social media platforms. In a month where many of us have transitioned to practicing and considering virtual engagement, we look forward to seeing you online and sharing in the discussion of how reducing post-harvest loss creates resilient communities!