KAMPALA – Uganda has on Tuesday, September 28 joined the global community to observe the first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, with calls to increase investments in approaches and innovations to bolster reduction of food loss.
The day was designated by the 74th United Nations General Assembly in 2019, recognizing the fundamental role that sustainable food production plays in promoting food security and nutrition. The International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste recognizes that when food is lost or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce this food, including water, land, energy, labour and capital – go to waste.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food losses in sub-Saharan Africa add up to $4 billion annually. Furthermore, about 38 percent of total energy consumption in the global food system is utilized to produce food that is either lost or wasted.
Across African countries including Uganda, the vast majority of food loss happens between harvest and the point of sale, with less waste by consumers after purchase. Some of the leading causes of food loss in Africa are a lack of cold chain facilities, especially for perishables, unreliable and inadequate and poor storage facilities and insufficient agro-processing skills among smallholder farming communities.
A key driver of food loss and is attributed to poor mindset about post-harvest losses across the agricultural value chain, characterized by limited understanding of the relationship between quality and quantity of grain, food safety and income. In addition, weak enforcement of quality standards for certain types of grain contributes to wide spread post-harvest handling challenges.
While addressing a media conference on the observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on 29 September 2020, at the Uganda Media Center, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja noted that according to the National Development Plan III and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, Uganda’s food loss ranges between 30 and 40 percent for grains and other staples; 30 and 50 percent for fresh-fruits and vegetables. “The economic loss for maize farmers alone ranges between US$70 and $126 million per/year”, he said.
The Minister said that to reduce food loss and waste, the Government of Uganda has established policy frameworks such as the National Strategy on Post-Harvest Loss Reduction and the National Agriculture Policy and Agriculture Sector Strategic Plan.
“The Government is investing in and promoting innovative technologies and infrastructure and supporting agro-processing and value addition to reduce post-harvest losses in fruits and vegetables, by establishing logistic hubs in cluster production areas”, he said.
The FAO Representative in Uganda, Antonio Querido said that, “reducing food loss and waste requires the attention and action of all, from food producers, to food supply chain stakeholders, to food industries, retailers and consumers.”
He noted that the largest improvements in food security are likely to occur when food loss is reduced in the early stages of the supply chain, especially on-farm and at harvest in countries with high levels of food insecurity, where the number of people affected by hunger has been slowly on the rise since 2014 yet tons of edible food are lost and/or wasted every day.
COVID-19 drives up food losses
According to FAO analysts, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused consumers in many low-income countries to purchase only staple carbohydrates and non-perishables, resulting in perishable food often being wasted in markets. Physical distancing measures in some countries have reduced the number of customers in markets, also resulting in increased food losses and reduced incomes for traders.
Studies commissioned by FAO before the pandemic estimate that on-farm losses in sub-Saharan Africa for fruits and vegetables are up to 50 percent, the highest in the world. For cereals and pulses, the on-farm losses are up to 18 percent, equal highest in the world with parts of Asia.
To mark this international day, governments and decision makers are being called on to target investments and create incentives to bolster efforts to reduce food losses. Education campaigns targeted at consumers on the meaning of “use-by” and “best before date” labelling are also encouraged, particularly in urban centres in developing countries, where food waste shows an increasing trend.
Operators along the food supply chain, including retailers, are called on to scale up their actions to reduce food loss and waste, and research institutions and academia are urged to further develop innovations that can be rapidly put to good use.
Snapshot of FAO’s actions for reduced food loss and waste Uganda
FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme have jointly implemented a project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda on mainstreaming food loss reduction initiatives for smallholders in food deficit areas.
This intervention introduced practical storage solutions such as triple layered hermetic sealed bags that can store grain for longer, plastic and metallic silos, grain cocoons, drying yard, tarpaulins, and maize cribs. Farmers were also organized in groups and cooperatives, and trained on good post-harvest practices. In Uganda, the project, in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), trained 80 groups in Apac and Lira districts, totalling about 1 600 producers of maize and sunflower, of whom 980 women. As a result, farmers have realized the benefits of adopting good practices and improved technologies, and adopted the culture of bulking and collective marketing. This has enhanced their bargaining power. However, more support is needed to reach more farmers.
The project also supported Government of Uganda in formulation of the national strategy on post-harvest loss reduction in grain supply chains. The strategy provides a much-needed framework of action for the country’s action towards reducing food loss and waste. The implementation of this strategy will contribute to facilitating a broad-based, large-scale up-take of good post-harvest practices and solutions recommended by the project.