Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Stop the rot

Food shortages, hunger, starvation, and food security are not new issues in Kenya, or elsewhere on the continent. What is notable however is the fact that post-harvest loss, a crucial component of the food security agenda, has not been given as much attention as food production or hunger management.

Globally, about 1.3 billion tonnes -- or one third of all food produced for human consumption -- are lost before they reach the market or the consumer annually. This is enough to feed all the undernourished people in the world.
In sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 230 million people suffering from chronic undernourishment, 30-50 per cent of the food produced is lost at various points along the value chain. Post-harvest losses come about due to lack of adequate storage facilities, access roads and refrigeration, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
While great emphasis has been placed on food production, the huge resources spent in the process are used in vain if up to 50 per cent of what is produced is lost, and the greenhouse gasses emitted in the process of producing food that gets lost or wasted are also in vain. The vicious circle of food loss has far-reaching consequences at the end of the day: farmers remain poor, food becomes scarce, the environment is degraded, food prices go up and starvation sets in.
Dr Thomas Dubois, the regional director of World Vegetable Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa, has cautioned that it is high time the government allocated more resources to address food loss. "As a country (Kenya) we don't even have a post-harvest policy. There is no single institution of higher learning in the country that offers a course in post-harvest management," he pointed out.
 Dr Lusike Wasilwa, head of crop systems at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), observed "The only university that offers a course in post-harvest management in East Africa is in Tanzania." 
Consequently, there are very few scientists in the country who are trained in post-harvest practices. A few years ago, farmers were required to store grains with a moisture content of about 14 per cent, which resulted in the grains rotting due to the high moisture content. The figure was later reviewed to about 11.5 per cent.
Before any technology is taken to farmers, it should first be tested. There are many technologies around but we need to do a stock check and identify which ones suit our farmers. It is not about technology, but rather practices. Smallholder farmers have nothing but their land, therefore, after harvesting, they are easily blackmailed into selling their produce cheaply due to desperation. As a result, shelf-life promoting technologies for farmers growing tubers, vegetables and fruits can be helpful

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