Post-harvest loss within the East African Community (EAC) accounts for 50% in tubers and root vegetables, nearly 70% in fruits and vegetables and 30% in cereals. The EAC is an intergovernmental organisation that operates as an economic trading bloc and consists of six member states, including Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that an annual third of the world’s total agricultural industries deals with post-harvest loss.
As a result of these post-harvest losses, the EAC is exploring various means of reduction, and are currently focusing on better storage, enhanced techniques of packaging and processing technology in a bid to stop the rot.
“In our recently adopted fruits and vegetables strategy, and post-harvest loss management action plan, we aim to unlock this potential by, among other things, pursuing best practices in contract farming, productivity, inputs; utilisation of modern and new technologies, capacity building,” said EAC deputy secretary-general for productive and social sector, Christophe Bazivamo.
Bazivamo believes that employing these strategies has the potential to “reverse” post-harvest loss.
What are the negative impacts of post-harvest loss?
Post-harvest loss negatively impacts a country’s food security, and has a knock-on effect on levels of nutrition. Food security has four pillars or needs that need to be fulfilled for a country’s food system to be considered “secure”. These include availability, access, utilisation and stability.
Post-harvest loss impacts these pillars in the following ways:
Availability: This indicates the variety of foodstuffs a consumer has access to.
Access: This refers to both economic and physical access to food. Can the general population afford to nourish themselves adequately, and can they reach food markets, supermarkets, etc. with ease?
Utilisation: This includes adequate dietary intake and ability to use nutrients in the body, as well as country-specific food safety guidelines.
Stability: This is the stability of markets, prices and supply.
Food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa are caused by a variety of factors that are complex and interconnected. Poverty and food scarcity are the primary causes of global food insecurity. It limits farming households’ ability to invest in productive assets and agricultural technologies, resulting in low agricultural productivity.
Furthermore, African importers are unable to bring in the food required to fill national food deficiencies at a profit simply because poverty is so widespread that insufficient demand is reflected through the market system.
Practical ways in which the EAC plans to reduce post-harvest loss
“Agriculture has the potential to completely transform our region, fully feed us and improve our economic welfare. We are yet to unlock the full potential of the sector and yet we are growing as a region and as a continent,” said Bazivamo.
Bazivamo added that the EAC is interested in improving agro-specific infrastructure such as collection centres, sorting, pack houses, cold storages, refrigeration tanks, the development of cold rooms, supply of processing machineries, competitive ocean and air freight services, and promotion of the packaging, branding, and display sectors as areas to concentrate on to reduce post-harvest loss.
The agricultural sector currently employs the largest number of East Africans, and makes up more than 20% of the bloc’s GDP.