Managing food waste in a period of starvation

While the developed world struggles with food wastage, the developing world, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa remains on the brink of starvation. Today 470 million small scale farmers and supply chain actors in developing countries lose an average of 15 percent of income to food spoilage. Solving this problem could feed 1 billion staring people by 2050.

We spoke to CD Glin from the Rockefeller Foundation Regional office in Kenya about these challenges.

VA: CD, if food and prosperity are inextricably linked, we’re in bad shape on the continent –  are we not?

DCG: I think we are in good shape because there is still time. There is still the opportunity to bring together the nexus between food, water, the environment and prosperity. We have to consider these as inextricably linked, so that when we look at food solutions especially agriculture – we must not only consider solutions that provide income but nourishment and preserves the natural resources that we have.

When people, planning and profit come together and we reduce food loss we’ll be on a better footing. Right now the world produces enough food to feed the global population.

A further challenge that you alluding to is by 2050 we will have 2 billion extra people to feed and if production and consumption levels stay as they are now, we will need to produce 70 percent more food than current levels.

The solution is not simply to produce more, because never in the history of mankind have we produced 70 percent more food than we currently do. So what is the solution? The evidence presents itself in what is already produced and moreso in what is wasted. We need to conserve and preserve that which we have to stem the loss of 30 percent of all food production. Unacceptable is route from farmer to market where most of the loss occurs unintentionally. It has to be said that whether rich or poor, every child gets told not to waste food –so this is also a global phenomenon.

The problem can be solved and it is addressable – use less and save more.

VA: We have an infrastructure funding shortfall on the continent – how possible is the $83bn required annually for food sustainability?

CDG: what is interesting when talking about finance is that more than 60 percent of people on the continent derive their livelihood from agriculture! In terms of lending, only 1 percent from commercial banks goes toward agriculture. So the question is why?  Historically it is associated with risk linked to the primary source of rain-fed agriculture which is changing due to climate change.

So what we are doing through the foundation is de-risking the opportunity through skills training in agriculture, directly linked to production and increased yields and this makes the option for finance more appealing.

More to this extent, the Foundation exercises risk through adding to the pot as it were and say to the financial institution the financial institution that we will suffer first loss for any defaults. This is another avenue that the foundation pursues to increase funding to the sector and spreading the risk.

There is also increased momentum on the post-harvest side in developing the down-stream sector of agriculture processing and financing of finished goods, lending to SME’s, contractors and these are more bankable option in a commercial sense.

VA: So Africa has 60 percent per the world’s arable land and just released is that 66 percent of Sub-Saharan soil is degraded. How do we go about this challenge?

CDG: one of the things historically that the foundation has done is take an integrated approach to agriculture. And to this we created I 2006, AGRA (The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa). One of the primary tenets for AGRA is improved soil fertility management. It is critical that we take cognisance of the soil degradation and find ways to improve it.

One of the challenges farmers face is lack of information and know-how. So along the way there have been problems related to the usage, need for usage of fertilizers, especially for preparing soil.

Further along the line has been what I call “Islands of success”. We have great crops here and there and limited to no access to market or no downstream production for conversion of crop yields so much goes to waste for lack of storage and production conversion processes.

VA: Given the four strategic focus points for food wastage and sustainability – what are you excited about at the moment?

CDG: we are really excited about bringing together in an integrated way, solutions to the problems. What are the problems? Greater awareness around the post-harvest lost because 95% of all agricultural spending happens on the input side.

Then we also have to address the leakage problem. We can have great harvest and fill up the bucket but with 30% leakage no one will be interested in the model. We are also enthused by the momentum around aggregation to bring small-holder farmers together and give them the training, tools and equipment to bring about needed change, because out of these many markets they can become one and link them to market and let the market buy what they are producing.

Big companies such UNILEVER, Coca-Cola who seeks to increase to 80% their sourcing from Africa and Nestle’ with a significant development initiative are all positive framework for agriculture in Africa.

VA: those are the positives….what scares you about 9 billion people?

CDG: it is the urgency of now. When we consider the project growth figures of population growth and timing – so before the advent of greater population we should get it right now. People are coming because of the opportunity.

But can we as Africans plan, prepare and endeavour to be proactive to respond to the opportunity that unfortunately presents in land grabs of commercial farms puts subsistence at risk.

It is unfortunate that people don not find agriculture ‘sexy’ of cool because when you consider it from a business perspective – you technology, apps, marketing of end-user products and the development of a market that does not exist in Africa, these are real potential market development opportunities.

The stark reality is that people have achieved this in other places and see the potential in Africa that we are taking time to accomplish.

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