Columnists

We must curb post-harvest losses and waste to achieve food security

Maize

Kenya needs a maize production masterplan to wean itself off imports. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

In recent national television footage, farmers in Nyandarua County are seen feeding fresh cabbages to their livestock because they have no market for their produce.

In the news bulletin of another television station, you see harrowing pictures of fellow citizens in drought-stricken counties.

This is the paradox of Kenya’s food system; wasteful surpluses in one corner and hunger in another.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.

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In developing countries, food losses occur in the production chain, hitting smallholder farmers the hardest.

The FAO estimates that 30-40 per cent of total production can be lost before it reaches the market, due to challenges ranging from improper use of inputs to lack of proper post-harvest storage, processing, or transportation facilities.

These losses can be as high as 40-50 per cent for the more perishable crops such as root crops, fruits and vegetables.

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Understandably, the Kenyan government is focusing on increasing food production but there should be an attendant effort to address post-harvest loss and waste.

There seems to be no strategy for surplus food during periods of glut, and this food is either wasted or bought on the cheap by brokers at the disadvantage of farmers.

Not addressing productivity and post-harvest waste concurrently is akin to trying to fill a water reservoir using a leaky pipe; it will take much longer to fill, and you waste the resource in the process.

Food losses represent a waste of resources used in products such as water, land, inputs and energy. Producing food that will not be consumed leads to unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions in addition to the loss of economic value of the food produced.

Further, failure to comply with minimum food safety standards can lead to food losses and, in extreme cases, impact the food security status of a country.

A range of factors can lead to food being unsafe, such as naturally occurring toxins in food, contaminated water and food, unsafe use of pesticides, and veterinary drug residues.

Poor and unhygienic handling and storage conditions, and lack of adequate temperature control, can also cause unsafe food.

It is critical that our policymakers recognise that increasing food production and minimising food losses and waste must go together for an effective and sustainable food security strategy.