Post harvest food loss is one of the largest contributing factors to food insecurity, under nutrition, hunger and hence poverty in developing countries, directly impacting the lives of millions of poor, smallholder farming families (WFP 2015).
Food loss and waste represents not only an obstacle to improving global food and nutrition security and feeding the estimated 870 million people still suffering from hunger and malnutrition, but also represents a gross misuse of the planet’s limited resources, while contributing to climate change (Save food initiative)
In many developing countries, due to inadequate handling and storage practices at the household level, within the first three months after harvest, farmers lose up to 40 percent of their harvest to insects, pests, mold, and moisture in pulses and cereals. yet in perishable foods, the percentage is 40% from farm to the market mainly due to poor packaging and transportation. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Sub Saharan Africa alone loses 20 million metric tons of food each year, valued at over US$4 billion (2011).
Agricultural Colleges in Uganda hardly mention about Post harvest handling as a key aspect to having a successful farming enterprise, hence this creates a gap in the existing agricultural extension service. Three aspects are emphasized, feed the soil, take care of the plant and you will have great harvests to take to market. Yet post harvest handling has continued to challenge the produce market accounting up to over 45% of the marketable produce lost to poor post harvest handling right from the farm to the market not counting the minor damages. This percentage loss is alarming when compared to that of the world 40% and also given the fact that about 90% of Ugandans are smallholder farmers. The other effect includes the reduced quality of foods leading to less nutritional values and reduced shelf life. I have been a victim of this loss as a young graduate and it triggered my desire to enroll for a Post harvest training course. In the training, I was exposed to best post harvest handling practices –the causes and remedy to the possible food losses, which practices I have found lacking hence causing food loss and spoilage in Uganda. This is because farmers and other actors in the value chain do not know best post harvest practices. Big and imperforated containers are in use to transport perishables to the market, by the time the produce gets to the market, they are either rotten, bruised or crashed and ends up to the garbage piles in the cities/towns. Some produce that look physically fine have internal bruises resulting to reduced shelf life. Surprisingly, these wastes and spoilage are not borne by all the actors in the value chain; it’s the farmers that they transfer the burden to, by offering them very low prices for their produce. This is because the traders are not sure that the produce will get to the consumer in good marketable condition. Due to poor handling, many lucrative markets (supermarkets) have resorted to importing quality produce yet the same produce exists locally but only poorly handled and packaged. The resulting effects have been severe food shortages as losses reduce the disposable amount of food available to farmer and consumers. Should calamity occur, the small holder farmer are the most affected because they do not know how to handle and preserve their food beyond a season and yet are poor to afford buying food from the markets. To break this cycle of losses to the smallholder farmers, upon completion of post harvest training, I trained others and came up with a small-motivated team to train farmers and actors in the produce value chain. And at the same time, engage local authorities to come up with policies and laws that would address post harvest handling of produce. In all our efforts and deliberations with the actors, we have always been asked to showcase our ideology; as a result, we came up with the idea of creating a Post harvest training and services center. This will offer training and advice to all stakeholders in the produce value chain. This is because, meaningful post harvest efforts that can help farmers have improved income and standard of living, can only be achieved if we engage all actors in the produce value chain.