I have been following this online discussion (Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems ) during the past few months, and it is good to see input and ideas coming in from many countries and types of organizations.
A few years ago I led a postharvest food losses study for the Gates Foundation, and we took a look back at 12 "agricultural development projects" funded by the World Bank, USAID , USDA, JICA, etc. to see what had worked or did not work in terms of helping smallholders in developing countries to reduce food losses. More than 45 scientists from a dozen countries participated in 2 years of field research including face to face interviews of past project beneficiaries and managers in 6 countries (Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Indonesia, India and Rwanda).
The report summary can be found online here:
BMGF Appropriate Postharvest Technologies project (WFLO 2009-10) http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-1848.pdf (slide deck) http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-1847.pdf (full report)
The key recommendations are as follow:
Building on Lessons Learned
Future projects should incorporate the major lessons learned from the 12 projects that were revisited by our WFLO/UC Davis postharvest teams, and the results of our 30 commodity systems assessments and 24 postharvest losses and quality assessments.
1) Focus on the Beneficiaries
Many of our assessments pointed to the need to advocate agri-business skills, attitudes and aspirations.
Many of the most successful past projects assisted farmers to become active marketers, rather than passively waiting for a trader to arrive at their farm gate and offer a price. When farmers were willing to take on more responsibility for their crops and become direct marketers, by learning how to grade, pack, handle and sell their produce directly to the retailer, they also gained more of the financial rewards.
2) Work through Groups
Whether via informal groups, co-operatives or formal associations, it is vital to work with groups to impact policy and reach large numbers of people.
Groups are the key to:
The CSA process we used to gather information on commodity systems during this planning project can be inexpensively and effectively applied to reassess the progress of farmer groups as they try out and adopt or reject new postharvest technologies.
Recent grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for micro-finance ($38m) will allow 18 institutions to expand their portfolios, and reach more smallholder farmers.
3) Women's issues remain important
Access of women to credit, training and extension services remain lower than that of men. Ideas for improvements include:
Many of these issues were recently highlighted by a report from the World Food Programme (2009).
4) Postharvest best practices should be incorporated early on in projects.
Identifying appropriate interventions is the first step key, since barriers affecting adoption of postharvest interventions include complexity, availability and perceived costs versus benefits. Having a year round supply of vegetables could improve the nutritional status of rural families, and especially for young children and their mothers.
The World Bank estimates that 20–25% of the global disease burden for children is due to under-nutrition (World Bank, 1993). Postharvest technology is an important part of achieving food security. According to the UN, Food security is typically subdivided into three components: (i) availability, or the existence of an adequate and stable supply of food; (ii) access, or the ability to obtain (physically or economically) appropriate and nutritious food; and (iii) utilization, or the ability to consume and benefit from nutritious foods (UN, 1996).
Postharvest best practices include:
Work is on-going by our economic team members to develop an "expert system" for decision making regarding when to use which postharvest technology for what crops. Key decision making inputs include how the technology can affect postharvest losses, shelf life and market value for a specific crop, and what the technology will cost in a specific location.
5) Invest wisely in postharvest infrastructure
Training in postharvest horticulture increases readiness and willingness to make changes, but if postharvest infrastructure and marketing support is not there for participants, the results of training can be frustration. Similarly, providing infrastructure without training can be a disaster waiting to happen— successful postharvest management requires complex knowledge and skills.
Improving communication regarding pertinent information (i.e. expected weather changes, availability and prices of postharvest supplies, consumer demands, changes in the needs of traders and market prices) will require outreach efforts via accessible methods such as local radio, inexpensive mobile phones, internet kiosks or via visual means (for example daily updated whiteboards posting market prices).
6) Build local capacity (strengthen institutions, human resources, community services)
Training should leave behind a cadre of local trainers and support service businesses to continue the work that is started by a development project. Capacity building includes:
We recommend that future projects include Commodity Systems Assessment (CSA) as a methodology for training extension workers— the CSA process requires them to work as a team, learn by doing, study all the details on the local commodity system, meet key players, decision makers, producers, postharvest handlers, processors, marketers, and understand the value chain from field to fork. The original CSAM manual is available online from the UN FAO inPHo website (LaGra, 1990).
Several of our consultants recommended that future projects include the methodology for mapping and influencing dynamic agrifood markets (includes Value Chain Mapping) as one of the first steps of any new development project. The manual is available online from www.regoverningmarkets.org <http://www.regoverningmarkets.org/> (Vermeulen et al, 2008).
Hall and Devereau (2000), when studying low cost storage for sweet potatoes in Uganda, found that a combination of lab research centered at modern institutions and a adaptive research fieldwork based approach could be used to improve results and speed the technology validation process.
7) Projects should have a longer term focus
8) Promote an Integrated Postharvest Management System
Our final recommendation is to promote an integrated postharvest management system beginning with "training of master postharvest trainers".
One of the unplanned side effects of this planning project has been to raise the expectation of potential target groups, since once they learned a little nit about how postharvest technology can help improve their livelihoods they actively have been seeking more information and requesting future training. Direct requests have already been made for:
The following steps would be required:
Initially, the focus of any new development project should be to provide basic information and demonstrations of these simple practices that can reduce postharvest losses. The longer term goal should be to promote the use of cooling and cool or cold storage and transport practices that can protect the investment of the farmers and can further reduce losses. Globally, investments in the cold chain often have been shown to repay themselves in a short period of time (Kitinoja, 2008)—hence the existence of an enormous number of companies around the world that offer services in cooling, cold storage and transport for a fee that is willingly paid by the owner of the produce— and this reduction in waste theoretically allows for three positive outcomes. The grower can receive more for their crops, while the middlemen or marketers lose less during handling and transport, and the consumer gets a better quality product at the same or lower price. By making an investment in appropriate scale postharvest technologies we can therefore achieve a win/win/win situation, where everyone involved in the value chain will benefit. The cool chain simply protects the food supply as it moves along the value chain—so we can end up with more food, of better quality, safer and more nutritious to eat, and at a lower price because we have reduced the level of waste.
Dr. Lisa Kitinoja
The Postharvest Education Foundation
PO Box 38, La Pine, Oregon 97739 USA
Website homepage: www.postharvest.org
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