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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countriesi
X
December 16, 2014 2:14 PM
Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.
Video

Video Indonesian Province to Expand Sharia Law

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and a legal system based on Dutch civil law and Indonesian government regulations. But in a 2001 compromise with separatists, Aceh province in Sumatra island’s north was allowed to implement Sharia law. Since then, religious justice has become increasingly strict. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh.
Video

Video Some Russian Businesses Thrive in Poor Economy

Capital flight, the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions are pushing Russia's staggering economy into recession. But not companies are suffering. The ruble’s drop in value has benefited exporters as well as businesses targeting increasingly frugal customers. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

All About America

AppleAndroid