News / Africa

Africa Still Suffers High Food Crop Losses

Bad roads, poor storage and weather destroy a fourth of food crops grown on a continent plagued by food insecurity

A woman stands in a hut filled with maize grain in Epworth, on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012.
A woman stands in a hut filled with maize grain in Epworth, on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012.
Eugene Nforngwa
— A new day has just started and I am standing at one of the largest farm markets north of the Cameroon capital Yaounde. Trucks that have journeyed all night are off-loading their cargo of tomatoes, carrots, green beans, bananas, and an assortment of vegetables and grains. Some of the trucks are still loaded. I am told they will soon begin a daylong journey to the border, where traders from Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are waiting.
 
As I look around, it’s hard to believe that many people across the continent will go to bed on an empty stomach tonight. But the hard truth is that most of the world’s 800 million hungry people are in Africa. Why? The continent is throwing away $4 billion worth of grain annually due to what experts call massive post-harvest losses.
 
  • KENYA: Many African roads are seasonably impassable or in bad repair. A Red Cross truck travels on a dirt road, Monday, Feb. 12, 2007, outside the Kenyan town of Naivasha. Harvest losses are high due to poor roads. AP File photo.
  • SOMALIA: Even stolen food aid is delayed by bad roads near the capital of Somalia as in this photograph taken by AP on Aug. 8, 2011.
  • ZIMBABWE: Inadequate storage causes major losses of African harvests. A woman stands in a hut filled with maize grain in Epworth, a community outside Harare, Zimbabwe Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. 
  • NIGERIA: Strikes by labor unions protesting high gasoline prices caused damage to fresh produce inventories. A woman sells tomatoes at a market in Obalende, Lagos, Nigeria, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. 
  • SOMALIA: Drought and famine force populations to seek refuge in UNHCR camps such as Dollow, where they can receive food aid. AP Photograph taken during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, Aug. 30, 2011. 
  • KENYA: Tribes in the Turkana Basin in Ethiopia and Kenya suffer during famine that swept into Somalia and Djibouti where tens of thousands died. AP photo taken Aug. 30, 2011. 
  • SOMALIA: A barefoot child stands among ragged tents at a refugee camp in Dolo, Somalia on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. The U.N., which declared a famine in Somalia one year ago, says conditions have improved but that 2.5 million people are still in crisis.
  • GHANA: Soaring prices put rice out of reach for many as a vendor tried to sell small packages of rice to customers at the Agbogboloshie food market in Accra, Ghana on Friday June 6, 2008. Food riots followed. 
  • CONGO: The World Food Program offered more than 60,000 Congolese refugees bags of maize meal near the town of Rutshuru, 70 kms north of Goma, eastern Congo, Friday, Nov. 14, 2008. AP photo.
  • SOMALIA: Refugees wait at an almost deserted feeding site run by the Somali aid agency Jumbo Peace and Development Organization which cooks food provided by the World Food Program. AP photo taken on Feb. 15, 2012 during investigation of stolen food aid by the news agency.

  • ZIMBABWE: A high percentage of fresh vegetables are damaged in packaging for overland transit. A vendor sells tomatoes at Harare's largest produce market, Mbare Musika on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. 

The hungriest continent
 
In spite of progress in food production, Africa is still the hungriest continent in the world. It accounts for the vast majority of nearly a billion people afflicted by food shortage globally. In the last 10 years, separate food crises have affected about 20 million people in the Sahel and in the Horn of Africa.
 
Campaigners for better policies say food shortage is becoming more frequent and affecting more people. One of them is Mamadou Biteye, the managing director of the regional office of the Rockefeller Foundation. Recently, I met him in Ethiopia, a country that became the rancorous symbol of Africa’s food problems in the 70s. Between 1983 and 1985, a treacherous famine killed about 400,000 people in the north of that country.
 
Biteye had been invited to Ethiopia by the African Media Initiative to rouse media interest in the continent’s food crisis. He told me there are many reasons why Africa cannot feed itself: In the 70s, draughts literally burned out the harvest in the Sahel. Today, climate change has rendered rainfall unpredictable, disrupting planting and harvest across the continent. Growing inequality means that many are stuck with subsistence. And, over the past decade, rising prices have put imported food above the reach of most of the continent’s poor.
 
Listen to interview with Rockefeller Foundation regional director
Listen to interview with Rockefeller Foundation regional directori
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Yet, Africa is throwing away a lot of its food. About 25 to 40 percent of the food produced on the continent is lost because of inadequate harvest, storage and transport practices. Market access has remained weak and very little food makes it up the value chain.
 
Biteye says if you tackle post-harvest loss, you nearly solve Africa’s food debacle. “Yearly grain loss is about 4 billion dollars and that is exactly the invoice that sub-Saharan Africa pays every year to import grains.
 
The lost food of Africa
 
“This means that if we are able to reduce this significantly, we don’t need to increase production.”  And that would improve Africa’s environment, he said, agriculture wouldn’t need to use more land, water and chemicals to improve production.
 
In 2011, the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated Africa’s lost food could feed at least 48 million people. In other terms, the report noted that food loss was greater than food aid received by the continent over the decade between 1998 and 2008.
 
The World Bank and FAO found that massive grain loss resulted from decay, pest destruction and physical scattering during harvest and transportation. Their report noted that loss could also be economical, in the form of the low prices of poor quality harvest.
 
Studies on post-harvest losses in Africa tend to focus on grain staples, which means the magnitude of the problem is grossly underestimated.
 
Looking at fresh produce losses

Fruits and vegetables are thought to be the hardest-hit victims of post-harvest loss. At the farm market in Yaounde, I can see why: Vegetables are stuffed in sacks and tightly packed in trucks; their leaves are already fading from dark green to yellow. Tomatoes are squeezed together in bamboo baskets. Bananas and plantains are flung to the ground and bruised. At the far end, a woman is sorting rotting potatoes for pig breeders. Most of the food here will not make it onto a plate.
 
Post-harvest loss has been going on in Africa for a long time. Traditional barns are exposed to pests, moisture and dirt. Bad roads make it difficult for most of the harvest to leave the farm. Manual harvesting makes the process slow and painful. In many parts of the continent, there is little or no post-harvest processing and preservation. 
 
But it’s the global economic meltdown of 2010/2011 that drew attention to the problem. Since then, many solutions have been proposed. Some, like the need to industrialize and modernize the continent’s predominantly subsistence farming practices, have raised more debate than provided answers.
 
Need to work with smallholders
 
Critics say the promotion of agri-business could create new problems for the poor.
 
Biteye, who is cautiously optimistic about the prospects of agri-business, says an integrated approach is needed. “Eighty percent of the food produced in Africa is done by smallholder farmers and 80 percent of those are women.
 
“This is not a sector that can just be wiped out like that in the name of agribusiness. What we have seen as a phenomenon recently is land grabbing, massive acquisition of land by private companies.
 
“But I think this can be done in a way that does not drive smallholder farmers out of their lands. It can be done in collaboration with those smallholder farmers by building their capacity, collaborating with them to have access to irrigated land, quality agricultural inputs and improve their production both in quantity and quality, and put that into the value chain.
 
“This can be a win-win situation.”
 
Others solutions that are on the table are technological. Asian farmers have successfully used airtight bags, metallic silos and small-scale rice drying technologies to handle and process food for years.

A discussion currently going on is how to implement these ideas on the African continent. But for that to happen, those techniques have to be tested for adaptability. While that happens, millions somewhere on the continent will be going to bed hungry tonight. At the same time, tons of food would be thrown away somewhere on the continent.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid