Academics, NGOs, governments and diverse businesses are trying to stem food loss in sub-Saharan Africa, while creating conditions for farmers to make a decent living.
Annual food losses for fruits and vegetables are an estimated 40 to 50 percent.
These losses have devastating ripples through rural communities. In addition to causing low farmer incomes, it is a major reason why hunger, malnourishment and broader economic poverty are endemic in rural Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest concentration of poor people in the world, most of them agriculture-dependent populations living in rural areas.
Yet, despite these sobering statistics, relatively little has been done to curb post-harvest food losses in Africa in recent decades. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 95 percent of agricultural research investments in sub-Saharan Africa over the last 30 years have been directed to increasing productivity, with only five percent aimed at reducing food losses.
“For too long, food losses have been a blind spot in the development agenda,” says Toby Peters, an expert on food cooling technologies and Professor in the Cold Economy at the UK-based Birmingham Energy Institute.
But slowly, momentum is shifting. Advances in affordable off-grid cold storage technologies, combined with new initiatives to help rural farmers pool their resources, are creating ripe opportunities to reshape Africa’s rural food systems and cut food losses. Academics, NGOs, governments and diverse businesses — ranging from corporate giants like Coca-Cola to startups like InspiraFarms and Twiga Foods — are all jumping in.
It is a two-step effort. The first step is helping rural farmers gain access to cooling technologies — many running on solar power. The second is helping farmers use scale — by pooling and cooling their crops — to gain critical leverage in deciding when and to whom they sell their goods.