Food Loss and Food Waste in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Critical and Welcome Review from Megan Sheahan and Chris Barrett

By Lawrence Haddad, GAIN’s Executive Director

Given all the talk and action around food loss in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), it is a shame this review in the Food Policy journal was not written 10 or even 5 years ago. Why?

First, it helps remind us why we might be interested in reducing food loss and waste: to improve food security, to improve food safety, to reduce wasted resources and to increase profits along the food supply chain. Often these objectives will not align and we need to be clear about which one we are most interested in affecting.

Second, it helps identify gaps in knowledge: we don’t know much above the drivers of food loss and waste in SSA; there is little reliable data on the magnitude of food losses beyond the farm gate – particularly for the nutritious and highly perishable foods — there is little apparent interest or understanding of the nutrient quality of food losses, and there are very few evaluations of interventions that assess the impacts on human well being or assess the spill over effects up and down the food value chain.

Third, it introduces some economic realism into the debate: given that reducing food loss is expensive, the optimal level of loss and waste is surely not zero (a widespread assumption, although not in SDG 12 which calls for halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains). The paper also notes that optimal levels of food loss and waste will differ by the different objectives listed above.

Fourth, it highlights gaps in action: most current interventions are on farm, directed at hermetic storage, and there are very few efforts focused on broad based investment areas that may deliver reductions in food loss and food waste but will also deliver broader based benefits, e.g. in infrastructure, rural finance and warehouse receipt systems.

GAIN, working with its partners, is seeking to reduce the loss of nutritious food along the selected food value chains in Nigeria, Indonesia, and Ethiopia — and this paper resonates: we look to reduce food loss with a view to improve the availability of nutritious food, but also to improve profits for supply chain actors including farmers; we work beyond the farm gate (where there is little evidence to guide); we look at nutrient loss as well as food quantity loss and we seek to estimate impacts at the human level (e.g. on what people eat) and up and down the supply chain (although this is challenging).

So if you are working in Sub-Saharan Africa on reducing food loss along food supply chains you would do well to read this critical but thoughtful paper and consider how we, as a community, can gather better evidence before another 5 or 10 years pass.


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Published 28 May 2018