Tackling food loss for sustainable food systems

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Nutrition / Food Systems

First: 14 per cent. This is the proportion of food that is lost between the field and the market – that is, it never reaches the consumer.

Second: 828 million. This is the estimated number of people who experienced hunger in 2021.

Looking at these two figures together, it is clear that reducing food loss is a key strategy to bringing an end to global hunger.

Reducing or eliminating food losses makes food systems more sustainable. When food is lost, the land, water, and other inputs used to produce it are wasted. And in rural areas, reducing food losses improves food security at the household level and creates job opportunities for small-scale producers.

The causes of food loss are different for every crop and in every country, so preventing it also depends on the local context. IFAD, in collaboration with FAO and WFP, supports the use of the Food Loss Analysis methodology, a tool that identifies the points in the value chain where food loss is occurring so that corrective action can be taken.

In addition, there are other ways to prevent, identify, and reverse food losses.

Policymaking to prevent food loss

Favourable policies and institutional environments are indispensable for the adoption of food loss reduction practices along the value chain. Regardless, creating these policy frameworks is not always straightforward and countries often need support to develop them.

In 2014, for example, the members of the African Union signed the Malabo Declaration, which included a commitment to halve food losses by 2025. Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda conducted a year-long consultative process on their existing policies and strategic frameworks for food loss reduction. The results of this process informed the review and revision of older policies, and the creation of new ones, in furtherance of their national commitments.

Prevent food loss on farms

In many cases, food loss occurs right on the farm, often because small-scale producers lack access to the techniques and improved technologies that would help prevent those losses. And as IFAD’s Rural Development Report 2021 shows, training farmers in better resource management practices is essential for making food systems more efficient.

IFAD recently put this to the test, helping our partners in seven countries pilot and evaluate farm-level solutions aimed at small-scale farmers.

Farmers were trained on a variety of innovative and affordable solutions, depending on the crop, the context, and the specific issues they were facing.

Many farmers saw significant reductions in food losses. In Rwanda, for example, farmers who used tarpaulins for drying and hermetic bags for household storage reduced maize losses from 18 per cent to 4 per cent, saving 128 kg of maize per year per household – a major contribution to their family’s food security.

Invest in post-harvest management

Through its loan programmes, IFAD invests more than US$100 million per year in post-harvest infrastructure (roads and stores), processing and packaging facilities, equipment and training on post-harvest techniques.

Most small-scale farmers and rural entrepreneurs can’t afford to invest in post-harvest technologies and need access to affordable financial instruments to support such investments. Yet these instruments remain out of reach for many of these farmers.

For example, an IFAD-supported study conducted in four African countries found that, although many suitable loan products were available, in practice they were inaccessible for most small-scale farmers. There were various reasons for this: many financial institutions did not have branches in rural areas; interest rates were high; and the risk of borrowing without price and insurance guarantees was too great for small-scale farmers.

IFAD is encouraging private sector investments in food loss reduction efforts at both local and national levels through its various rural finance interventions. This includes our Private Sector Engagement Strategy and our collaborations with private banks, microfinance institutions and the public sector to develop appropriate financial instruments.

The way forward

Preventing food loss is now firmly on the global agenda. Rising food and agricultural input prices have brought home the lesson that we need to do more with less. Crucial to this is reducing food losses before they reach the consumer. This is key in reducing the environmental impact of small-scale food production and helping small-scale producers make their operations more sustainable.

For more information on the global effort to reduce food losses, visit the dedicated community of practice hosted by FAO.

Find out about the food loss reduction advantage.

Read lessons from the field on 10 ways to reduce food loss

Originally published on ifad.org
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