FAO Regional Office for Africa

Reducing food losses and waste in sub-Saharan Africa

Climate induced crop failure dampens the situation

Surplus maize being delivered to a grain bank constructed with the assistance of FAO in Zomba, Malawi, for storage. Photo © FAO/ Edward Ogolla

24 March 2016, Harare - Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. These losses are particularly unfortunate in Africa where 220 million people are estimated to be undernourished. Climate-induced crop failures — including those caused by the ongoing El Niño phenomenon – have further compounded the situation in the affected parts of Eastern and Southern Africa. This calls for a shift in focus to not only increase productivity at farm level, but also to improve post-production handling among smallholder farmers and other value chain actors

An increased emphasis on the agricultural post-production system has been the focus of a project funded by the Kingdom of Norway entitled, "Food loss reduction strategy development in favour of smallholder producers in Africa Phase 1". A regional validation workshop organized by the project brought together 13 countries as well as experts from the Rome-based UN agencies (FAO, IFAD and WFP), regional institutions; SADC, CCARDESA and development partners including the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The workshop which was held in Harare (15 - 17 March) provided the much-needed impetus to identify strategies and practical solutions aimed at reducing food losses and agree on practical actions needed to develop a programme for the reduction of food losses. The meeting included a field trip to Harare’s biggest vegetable market run by the local authority as well as a visit to a privately owned horticultural post-harvest facility to further understand how losses occur and options for preventing them.

Speaking during the opening of the three-day meeting, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri, called on the need for a holistic understanding of factors leading to the losses. “The solutions to reduce food losses and waste are often not straightforward, they need to be thoroughly considered and evaluated based on technical feasibility, economic profitability, social and cultural acceptability as well as environmental soundness,” he said.

Level of food losses unacceptable, new strategies needed

A speech read on behalf of the Zimbabwean Minister for Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Joseph Made, emphasized that the levels of loss are clearly unacceptable, in particular on the African continent where food and nutrition insecurity remain an important challenge. “Obviously, new strategies and approaches are needed to reduce food losses and waste, especially due to the rapidly changing nature of agri-food systems and rapid urbanization”.

The Minister added that the lengthening of food supply chains in the absence of improved efficiency and post-harvest infrastructure was also driving losses upwards. “Given these changes, intervention strategies need to focus on systematic improvements to the efficiency and sustainability of the entire supply chain rather than the single point interventions of the past,” said Minister Made

Reducing losses means more resource utilisation

Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Regional Director, Reto Wieser, said the focus in agricultural development has been on production, taking up to 95 percent of research funds  with just 5 percent allocated towards post-production and reduction of food losses. This, despite the fact that food losses represent a waste of scarce resources such as water, land, energy and inputs, place a strain on the economy and may contribute toincreases in food prices. Wieser added that there were advantages brought by a reduction in food losses such as improved food availability and better utilisation of natural resources. Furthermore, he emphasized that market based approaches and business models are essential in order to reduce food losses sustainably.

Using a standardised methodology will improve value of information

The workshop presented findings from loss assessment studies that have been conducted along supply chains for a range of different commodities, including maize, millet, potato, legumes and horticulture. Participants agreed on the benefits of adopting a standardized methodology in their respective countries noting its usefulness in terms of comparing results, sharing information and measuring progress.

The standardized methodology developed by FAO takes a value chain approach, includes both quantitative and qualitative aspects of food losses, investigates the role of women in post-production operations, and also analyses institutional and regulatory frameworks and policies that contribute to food loss reduction. Participants also agreed that the renewed impetus to reduce food losses requires all stakeholders to join forces and work together.


More Information

  1. The CoP presented at FAO regional validation workshop for food loss reduction strategy development in favour of smallholder producers in Africa.
  2. Workshop photo album
  3. FAO Zimbabwe Video: Cutting back the loss
  4. Website: Community of Practice on Food Loss Reduction


Leonard Makombe | FAO Zimbabwe Communications | [email protected]

Edward Ogolla | FAO Southern Africa Communications | [email protected]