September 29 was declared International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste as a rallying point for African countries to bolster their efforts to promote food security, private sector investments and reduce food losses and waste.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food losses in sub-Saharan Africa translate to a cost of US$4 billion a year.
This is food that is grown, but never eaten, food that rots in the fields, on the farms, in transit, in storage, at selling points or in homes.
This is a lot of food, around US$4 for every person in Africa, and every little effort we make as a country and as a continent will help go a long way towards feeding the hungry and the poor.
Zimbabwe and most other countries on the continent must not take food losses and waste lightly.
It’s bleeding our potential food reserves silently, but with a damaging and crushing impact on food security and the livelihoods of millions of people who survive on agriculture.
Even, the urbanites and vast majority of the urban poor still need to eat and be food secure.
FAO says the vast majority of food loss happens between harvest and point of sale.
Very little is wasted by consumers after purchase.
It says some of the leading causes of food loss in Africa are a lack of cold chain facilities for perishables, unreliable and inadequate storage, and insufficient agro-processing skills among smallholder farming communities.
Zimbabwe has taken practical steps to intensify efforts to boost agricultural production.
Inputs are being delivered on time, conservation agriculture, popularly known as Pfumvudza, has been developed to ensure that we get a crop even in bad years.
More importantly, it is making smallholder farming economically viable
But this is only half the problem we need to solve.
Growing more food on each farm is not much use if the farmers cannot sell that food because it rots before sale, or if the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) or other buyers need huge injections of taxpayer money because they could not store or process the food.
Without adequate measures to reduce food losses and waste, the Pfumvudza programme will not bring the desired results.
Growing the food in the first place is just half the struggle.
We have to ensure that farmers are able to harvest the food, do whatever processing is needed on the farm, even if this is just drying, and get it to the markets, in many cases the GMB.
There it has to be stored properly before millers and other processors buy it.
They in turn need to do their advanced processing with no waste.
It then needs to be delivered to shops and again with no waste. Growing food is only half the battle.
Zimbabwe and most other African countries need to radically transform their food systems to make them more efficient and sustainable for people and the planet.
Agriculture experts repeatedly told us about the need to tackle food loss and waste. And it is not just grain losses.
Studies commissioned by FAO before the pandemic estimate that on-farm losses in sub-Saharan Africa for fruits and vegetables are up to 50 percent, the highest in the world.
That is half the cabbages and tomatoes and other vegetables we grow never even get out of the farm gate.
For cereals and pulses, the on-farm losses are up to 18 percent, equal highest in the world with parts of Asia.
FAO, pointing out the obvious, says when food is lost or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce the food, including water, land, energy, labour and capital, are also wasted.
The UN food agency urges governments, the private sector, civil society, development agencies, research and academic institutions and consumers to work together closely to address gaps and strengthen mechanisms to reduce food losses.
Education campaigns targeted at consumers on the meaning of “use-by” and “best before date” labelling are also encouraged, particularly in urban centres in developing countries, where food waste shows an increasing trend, FAO further said.
It noted that operators along the food supply chain, including retailers should scale up their actions to reduce food loss and waste, while research institutions and academia should further develop innovations that can be rapidly put to good use.
In this regard, we welcome efforts of an FAO project done in a partnership with the African Union and the Rockefeller Foundation in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe to promote the widespread use of hermetically-sealed bags that can store grain for longer periods.
The use of improved crates to transport fresh fruits and vegetables to reduce damage during transport were piloted and adopted by stakeholders.
Zimbabwe and most other African countries need to scale-up the adoption of practical solutions to reduce post-harvest losses and food waste.
Pfumvudza must be accompanied by a post-harvest management strategy to help bolster food security and improve livelihoods.
We need more new innovation project to help reduce problems along the food supply chain that could lead to food loss and waste.
According to research findings by the UZ Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering, Zimbabwe has an average maize post-harvest loss of about 18,5 percent, roughly worth about $259 per tonne while for sorghum, the figure is around 12,5 percent which translates to a loss of $175 per tonne.
The post-harvest losses are mainly due to destruction during storage by insects and pests.
The Government and all agricultural research institutions should find useful strategies to minimise post -harvest losses to help enhance the country’s food and nutritional security.
Finding solutions to these problems could also help Government’s vision to attain the middle income economy status by 2030 backed by food and nutrition security.
Zimbabwe requires 1,8 million tonnes of grain for both human and livestock consumption a year and hundreds of tonnes are often imported to cover the gap.
Every year, up to 18,5 percent of the country’s expected harvest is lost largely due to poor post-harvest handling methods.
These losses translate into millions of dollars worth of grain imports.
Reducing food losses and waste, could help close the gap. Growing more food is just the first step. Making sure we actually eat all that extra food is the second.