Comparative research to reduce post-harvest losses

Published on 30 September 2013

Post–harvest losses in sub-Saharan Africa continue to be a major contributing factor to the overall food insecurity of the region. In this photo, Agbessi Amewoa, P4P Burkina Faso, is working with local farmers to handle the new storage equipment. Copyright: WFP/Simon Costa

Almost one third of the local farming production in sub-Saharan Africa is lost every year due to inadequate post-harvest management and household storage. In combination with its efforts to increase food production in the region, P4P is strongly promoting a greater focus on food preservation. Through a new post-harvest loss reduction initiative recently launched in Burkina Faso, WFP and its partners are combining their efforts to dramatically reduce these losses.  

A large number of detailed studies show how food commodities can be damaged or spoiled during harvest, processing, storage and transporting. Every year, more than 30 percent of the food produced for human consumption across the sub-Saharan African countries is lost or wasted. This volume far exceeds the total amount of international food aid provided to the region each year.

Fortunately, there are many solutions available. Simple and inexpensive steps such as education on the grain drying process and improved storage infrastructure have proven to reduce food loss and increase food availability on local and regional markets. Throughout the past five years, P4P and its partners have already trained smallholder farmers and traders in 20 countries in post-harvest management and techniques like proper grain bagging, quality control and how to use silos.  Building on this experience, WFP recently began action research trials with farmers' organizations in Burkina Faso to test a variety of food loss reduction initiatives. 

“With the majority of sub-Saharan African families being subsistence farmers, the more we can do to assist them in reducing post-harvest food losses and improving grain quality, the more effective P4P can be in connecting farmers to markets. There is no doubt this will be life changing for many of African families,” said WFP project leader Simon Costa.

Education is an essential part of the project

The new post-harvest management training and storage trials will include three stages; Farmer Education; Action Research Trials; and Project Implementation. Education is critical to achieve lasting change on post-harvest management and consequently key to reducing food losses in sub-Saharan Africa. The initial training workshops were carried out in the regions of Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouahigouya in Burkina Faso. Over 170 smallholder farming families attended these workshops to learn more about the best post-harvest practices, crop drying systems, storage systems, food safety and quality issues.

“I never knew how important drying and storing is for the crops. During the training I learned how to dry and safely store my food to reduce the problem of pests and insects. This is going to be very useful for me.” said Guel Korotimi, smallholder farmer and participant at the workshop in Bobo-Dioulasso.

Smallholder farmers to test different types of storage equipment

Although extensive studies have been undertaken on the key causes of food losses in developing countries, specific refinement of these studies is necessary given the variance in each farming region. In Burkina Faso the workshops included demonstrations and distribution of new post-harvest handling equipment and five new storage technologies: plastic silos, metal silos, multilayer plastic bags, water-resistant plastic storage unit, and insecticide infused long-lasting plastic woven bags. In order to enable a comparative study, the participating farmers have been requested to store their coming harvest in both their traditional and new storage units. WFP and the participating farmers’ organisations will visit the farmers to follow up on the employment of the new storage equipment.  A detailed analysis of the trial results will be completed and shared with partners.

Working with partners to maximize results

The findings from the trial in Burkina Faso will also feed into other post-harvest food loss reduction projects that are underway, including a joint project between UN’s food agencies WFP, FAO and IFAD.  This project, funded by Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), will foster collaboration and coordination of activities under the food loss and waste pillar of the UN Zero Hunger Challenge.

“Combining the efforts of multiple partners will significantly increase our chances of improved crop preservation and grain quality for marketing, leading to greater food security and quality of life of smallholder farmers in the region.” said Simon Costa.