Food Waste: Prioritising investments to minimise post-harvest loss

The need to cut agricultural product loss and waste is therefore key in addressing inefficient use of natural resources (along with their depletion and degradation) and food insecurity. At the same time reducing losses creates attractive business opportunities. While there are already a number of efforts to address the challenge of waste in manufacturing and retailing[ii], these ambitions all have a narrow focus on waste volume and mass, and need to take a broader value chain approach.

Investment decisions made solely on driving down waste volume and mass is insufficient.  The value of waste per kilogram clearly varies across the supply chain and has to be considered when evaluating intervention options.  Moreover, the requirements and decisions of (international) buyers can inadvertently increase waste in the system by imposing varieties, aesthetics or other requirements on the produce that drive further losses.

[1]FAO [ii] e.g. WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2025; the Consumer Goods Forum commitment in 2015 to halve food waste by 2025.

Furthermore, across the value chain, often those investing in solutions to reduce losses (e.g. cooling facilities in packsheds/storage, communication technologies, local processing facilities) are not those who will ultimately benefit most.  We are working on alternative business models that support transfer of risks, costs and benefits to align interests in reducing waste across the chain.

A quarter of food calories produced are lost across the value chain and never eaten[i]. FAO

Even within the production stage of the value chain, losses vary considerably by types of farmers. For example, from our review of stone and other fresh fruit in south eastern African countries (e.g., Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia), the pack rates varied between 75% (commercial farmers), to 20% (some smallholder farmers). Not only is the revenue received by each party different, but the implications on worker and farmer livelihoods can be profound.

Our 4 step approach to effectively minimise post harvest loss

1. Map value chains (in terms of volumes and lost revenues).

2. Assess losses in terms of volumes and prices for separate end markets and value chain positions.

3. Identify causes of losses in order to develop investment cases for individual participants.

4. Find innovative solutions to align interests and create economically viable and practically financeable solutions for different parts of the value chain.