Food losses occurring between harvest and retail sale, also known as post-harvest losses, is a key challenge undermining food security and income generation in many developing countries and one that IFAD is committed to alleviate.
The Food Loss Reduction Advantage Series illustrates the benefits and returns of investing in food loss reduction for smallholder farmers, drawing on practical examples from IFAD programmes.
- Accessing finance
One of the main constraints preventing smallholders from reducing their post-harvest losses is the lack of financial means to buy improved post-harvest facilities and equipment. Improving access to finance for smallholder farmers, as well as for farmer cooperatives and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) is fundamental to enable them to reduce their food losses.
- Linking farmers to markets
Farmers are not willing to invest and reduce their food losses if they cannot sell their produce and make a profit. Linking producers to profitable markets is another essential step to increase investment in food loss reduction activities.
- Improving on-farm storage for grains
One of the most widely applied solutions for the reduction of grain losses in developing countries is the improvement of on-farm storage technologies. The most commonly used options (metal drums and hermetic bags) can reduce grain losses to nearly zero if used correctly, allowing farmers to increase the food available for home consumption and sale.
- Upgrading grain drying equipment
In grain value chains, most losses in quantity and quality occur during storage and are due to improper grain drying. This can lead to mould damage and aflatoxin contamination, two of the major causes of losses for grains. Helping farmers and farmer organizations to acquire improved drying equipment, from simple tarpaulins and covers, to grain drying equipment and shelters that protect from the rain are in many cases key to reduce food losses.
- Enabling cold storage for fresh produce
The highest levels of losses occur in the fresh produce value chains, particularly for fruits and vegetables but also for fish, meat and milk. Heat is one of the prime causes of spoilage for fresh produce, and the lack of cold chain equipment and infrastructure leads to high levels of losses in developing countries. Supporting farmers and traders in acquiring affordable and appropriate cooling equipment can substantially reduce losses of fresh produce.
- Strengthening transport
For farmers living in remote rural areas, lack of transport infrastructure is perhaps the greatest constraint. This prevents them from accessing markets, increases transport time and increases the risk of damaging the produce. Improving transport infrastructure to the last mile can have a significant impact on the reduction of these food losses.
- Building commercial storage
Collective storage facilities can be a solution for farmers who lack the means to acquire on-farm storage technologies, which enables them to safely store their crops while they wait for prices to increase. With increasing formalisation of warehouse receipt programmes in developing counties, this could become a very interesting area that links improved storage to increasing access to rural finance.
- Training farmers
Although a lack of equipment and infrastructure is a key constraint, lack of awareness and capacity amongst smallholder farmers should not be underestimated. Training farmers on post-harvest handling and storage of the crops they handle is key to reducing food losses. For example, skills in timing of harvest, crop drying, moisture management and safe storage are essential skills that many farmers in developing countries do not have.
- Collecting data
The lack of accurate data on the causes and amounts of losses is another important limitation, as it prevents accurate targeting, assessment and identification of food loss reduction interventions. There are different methodologies available for quantitative and qualitative analysis of food losses. The most common one, the FAO food loss assessment methodology, for example, allows to identify critical loss points for a given value chain, thus allowing a more accurate targeting of the intervention.
- Developing policies
Supporting governments in integrating food loss reduction into national agricultural strategies is key to ensure the long-term political commitment that is needed to ensure reduced food losses. This may require support in terms of financial support and technical expertise.
Read the Food Loss Reduction Advantage report for more practical examples from the field.