African Church leaders are highlighting the need to tame the continent’s persistent post-harvest losses, as organizations point at rising food insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although some regions have registered bumper harvests following improved rains, concerns for loss of food in the processes of harvesting, transport, and storage have also emerged.
In the past, such losses seen to occur from the farms to dining tables have been a major cause of hunger among rural communities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, according to church officials and agricultural experts.
“A look at what is harvested and how it’s handled, it is visible that post-harvest food losses in Africa are high,” said Ven. J.W Kofi deGrant Johnson, a Ghanaian Anglican who is the secretary general of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa. “There are no proper storage facilities or the technology to allow longer storage periods. Environmental conditions such as high humidity have been affecting the storage.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, the loss is estimated at 100 million metric tonnes of food, with the estimated waste being much higher for perishable foods such as vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy.
Organizations estimate that the losses for grains alone amount to US$4 billion per year. According to the Food Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the losses are enough to feed 48 million people for one year. The food lost could also fill the gap for all the food grain imported into Africa and the food delivered as humanitarian aid to the continent’s needy in one year.
According to Johnson, bad roads linking farms to the markets have led to the post-harvest losses since the foods do not reach the market at the right time. The absence of proper storage for perishable foods such as fruits and vegetables in the market also results in huge losses, according to the leader.
“Through member churches, we have been advocating the governments to put more investment in agriculture, technology, and scientific research in the sector. We believe the churches have a responsibility in the advocacy,” said Johnson, while highlighting Ghana’s One Silo, One District initiative to enable the storage of grains and cool storage facilities along the coast to boost fishing as part of church and other organization’s advocacy work.
Bishop Zakariah Wachira Kahuthu of the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church said post-harvest losses were a challenge the church has been tackling in its regions for several years.
“Recently, fewer people have reported losses after harvests, but the climatic disasters have been a major challenge. Floods in areas like Tana River, for example, have come and swept away crops that were ready for harvesting. We are now giving such people food and COVID-19 related material such as masks,” said Kahuthu.
At the moment, African governments are working to meet an African Union's commitment to halve post-harvest losses by 2025. The commitment was agreed on in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in 2014, as part of the pan-African organization’s efforts to end hunger in the continent by 2025.
* Fredrick Nzwili is an freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.