Food losses increase during COVID-19 and are a major hurdle to Africa’s development

Food losses increase during COVID-19 and are a major hurdle to Africa’s development


The first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste will be marked tomorrow with a call to action for African countries to bolster their efforts and encourage private sector investments to reduce food losses and 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.

Across Africa, the vast majority of food loss happens between harvest and the point of sale - very little is wasted 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 storage facilities and insufficient agro-processing skills among smallholder farming communities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a wake-up call for the need to radically transform our food systems to make them more efficient and sustainable for people and planet. Tackling food loss and waste, and particularly post-harvest loss reduction, in Africa is essential to achieve that goal,” FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Abebe Haile-Gabriel said on the eve of the international 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. When food is lost or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce the food, including water, land, energy, labour and capital, are also wasted.