Food Loss by 2030Local and global stakeholders in the Nigerian tomato value chain met late last year for the first YieldWise partner planning session. This was part of a crucial Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help halve food loss worldwide by 2030, a key objective of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

The product loss in Nigeria is staggering. While the country is the largest producer of tomatoes in Sub-Saharan Africa and the second largest in all of Africa, more than 40 percent of the product is lost between harvest and market each year. The post-harvest loss harms both consumers and smallholder farmers. On a worldwide basis, one-third of the food produced is lost to spoilage or is just thrown away. That’s food that could nourish the nearly 800 million people who go to bed hungry. For smallholder farmers, the post-harvest loss means loss of income and profits, leading to their own economic insecurity.

To demonstrate how post-harvest loss can be prevented, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the $130 million YieldWise initiative last year. The Foundation chose as its demonstration sites Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. Nearly half the fruits, vegetables and staple crops produced in these countries are lost before they can ever reach a table. In Nigeria, the focus of the Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help halve food loss is on reducing crop losses and, perhaps just as important, on building an efficient value chain from a producer, to a buyer, a processor, a retailer and ultimately to the consumer.

Creating a more efficient, integrated tomato value chain was a key purpose of the meeting late last year of 22 local and global stakeholders. The stakeholders included Nigerian and international NGOs, Nigerian government representatives, providers, processors, agro-technology manufacturers and large scale tomato buyers. By aligning the resources each brings to the table, the stakeholders could develop a single, unified strategy to overcome post-harvest loss in the tomato value chain. The strategy addresses farmer aggregation and training, market linkages, financing and loss mitigating technologies.

The strategy was made possible because the individual stakeholders set aside their usual competitive differences to engage in a collaboration that would benefit the entire value chain, as well as each individual part of the value chain. The stakeholders will continue their collaboration at quarterly working group meetings. This spirit of collaboration is characteristic of the other demonstration projects participating in the Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help halve food loss by 2030. Through collaboration that engages stakeholders from smallholder farmers to international giants like Coca-Cola, the Foundation hopes to show that the problem of post-harvest loss can be solved for good.

Robert Cornet

Photo: Flickr

refrigeration technologyRefrigerators. Everyone has one. Often filled with smelly leftovers and the occasional moldy cheese, they are a staple of the American way of life. However, refrigeration is not a luxury that everyone enjoys.

Without refrigeration technology, food is at constant risk of spoiling. Globally, tons upon tons of food is lost each year, and a lack of refrigeration plays a part in this. Some sources state that one-third of food produced today will end up being lost for one reason or another. Others say that around 40 percent of food is lost before it reaches markets. Either way, the number stands around 1.3 billion tons a year.

Putting these statistics into monetary form might give even more perspective and clarity. Around $1 trillion worth of food is lost each year around the world. In India alone, $6.8 billion worth of fruits and vegetables are lost a year.

Before continuing, it is important to recognize the distinction between food waste and food loss: “Food loss refers to the decrease in edible food mass at the production, post-harvest and processing stages of the food chain, mostly in developing countries. Food waste refers to the discard of edible foods at the retail and consumer levels, mostly in developed countries.” Food loss is a problem common to the developing world.

A lack of any way to keep fruits and produce cool is usually the reason for their loss, although it should be acknowledged that simply throwing extra food out is also a problem, albeit in more developed countries. A deficit in access to cold chain technology – refrigeration for goods en route to their final destinations – has a major role in food loss. The food that does not spoil on its way to its destination faces the challenge of finding refrigeration once it is delivered as well.

A new piece of refrigeration technology hopes to solve these food loss problems. Called Evaptainers, they are the solution to the fact that 45 percent of the produce grown in Africa is lost before it reaches consumers. The idea began in a class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where students were challenged to come up with something that would change lives. The Evaptainer was the result.

The Evaptainer is a low-cost, mobile, electricity-free cooling unit that can be used to either improve the cold chain or refrigerate fruits, vegetables or meat in one place. Evaptainers use evaporative cooling instead of vapor-compression, which is more energy-intensive, to keep the cost and energy use low.

How does the Evaptainer work? Everyone has experienced evaporative cooling at some point: the sensation of a breeze cooling skin after swimming is essentially what it is in action. The device itself has two parts: an inner area where goods are kept, and a layer of sand in between the produce and the outer wall of the container. When water that has been added to the sand evaporates, it lowers the temperature of the food chamber by up to 20 degrees centigrade.

Refrigeration has always been a struggle in the developing world. Often, there is a lack of electricity to power cooling units, and so food ends up being lost. Once Evaptainers go into production for commercial use, it will be interesting to see the impact they make in the developing world. Keep an eye out for this one in the future.

Gregory Baker

Sources: FAO, UN Non-Governmental Liaison Services , Evaptainers, The Guardian
Photo: The Daily Banter

global food security index
Last May, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published its annual DuPont-commissioned Global Food Security Index (GFSI). The index aims to “provide a robust and consistent analytical framework for measuring and deepening the understanding of food insecurity around the globe.”

The index showed that food security in 70 percent of countries increased from 2012 to 2013. In that time span, the number of people suffering from chronic hunger decreased from 868 million to 842 million, with a 17 percent decline over the past 24 years.

However, the index also highlighted numerous obstacles inhibiting the growth of food security that both poor and rich countries have yet to surmount.

One hundred nine countries were ranked. The top five, in order, were the United States, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway (tied with the Netherlands) and Singapore. The bottom five were Burundi, Togo, Madagascar, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Of all 109 countries, Uganda saw the biggest increase and Myanmar saw the biggest decrease in food security.

To determine these rankings, the GFSI incorporates three categories: Affordability, Availability and Quality & Safety.

The Affordability category incorporates measures like food consumption as a percentage of household expenditure, the proportion of a country’s population living under the $2 dollar per day global poverty line and import tariffs on agricultural goods. This category, a combination of six indicators, seeks to determine the degree to which people can purchase nutritional food without depleting their financial resources. In the top performing countries (U.S. and Singapore), people spent less than 15 percent of their budget on food.

This all matters little if food is affordable, but unavailable, so the GFSI assesses how easily people can access food as well. Acquiring the food one needs can be difficult in countries plagued by corruption, a lack of infrastructure and unpredictable agricultural outputs. Low-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa scored the lowest in Availability, though the region experienced a notable increase in overall food security.

Lastly, the GFSI analyzes the quality and safety of diets in different countries. It looks at the availability of micronutrients like vitamin A and vegetal iron, protein quality and diet diversification, among other indicators.

According to the index, the majority of countries made gains in Affordability, but many countries lost points in Availability and Quality & Safety. In many countries grouped in the “Asia & Pacific” region, food indeed became more affordable, but only because diet diversification had been markedly reduced.

Two new indicators were added this year: food loss as part of the Availability category and obesity as part of the Quality & Safety category. Both have been controversial in recent years. In India, for example, a lack of food-chain infrastructure results in tremendous food loss—as much as 25 percent of produce every year.

Furthermore, obesity has become a growing concern even in countries with high food insecurity, though experts are still at a loss to explain this phenomenon.

The upshot of the index seems positive, with food security increasing in most countries. Despite this progress, areas for improvement have been pointed out. For one, women farmers across the globe still lack the same access to education, land and machinery that men have. Moreover, governments in developing countries are still struggling to make food more affordable without sacrificing dietary quality.

– Ryan Yanke

Sources: Economist, Blouin News, Dupont, Global Food Security Index
Photo: BlouInNews blog