Tackling food loss for sustainable food systems

IFAD Asset Request Portlet

Asset Publisher

Tackling food loss for sustainable food systems

Let us consider two figures.

First: 14 per cent. This is the proportion of global food production that is lost somewhere between harvest and retail – that is, it never reaches the consumer.

Second: 957 million. This is the number of people in low- and lower-middle-income countries who, estimates show, do not have enough food to eat every day.

Put these two figures together, and it is clear that food loss must be reduced if we are to finally bring an end to global hunger.

Reducing food losses (and eliminating them where possible) makes food systems more sustainable. When food is lost, the land, water, and other inputs used to produce it are wasted. And in rural areas, reducing food losses improves food security at the household level and creates job opportunities for small-scale producers.

The causes of food loss are different for every crop and in every country, so preventing it is also context-specific. (IFAD, in collaboration with FAO and WFP, supports the use of the Food Loss Analysis methodology, a tool that identifies the points in the value chain where food loss is occurring so that corrective action can be taken.) That said, there are plenty of other avenues to prevent, identify, and reverse food losses.

Policymaking to prevent food loss

Favourable policies and institutional environments are indispensable for the adoption of food loss reduction practices along the value chain. Regardless, creating these policy frameworks is not always straightforward, and countries often need support to develop them.

In 2014, for example, the members of the African Union signed the Malabo Declaration, which included a commitment to halve food losses by 2025. Through a grant funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, IFAD, FAO and WFP helped the governments of three signatories – Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda – conduct a year-long consultative process on their existing policies and strategic frameworks for food loss reduction. The results of this process informed the review and revision of older policies, and the creation of new ones, in furtherance of their national commitments.

Preventing food loss on farms

In many cases, food loss occurs right on the farm, often because small-scale producers lack access to the techniques and improved technologies that would help prevent those losses. And as IFAD’s Rural Development Report 2021 shows, training farmers in better resource management practices is essential for making food systems more efficient.

IFAD recently put this to the test, helping our partners in seven countries pilot and evaluate farm-level solutions aimed at small-scale farmers.

Farmers were trained on a variety of innovative and affordable solutions, depending on the crop, the context, and the specific issues they were facing. Solutions included tarpaulins, solar dryers, metal silos, hermetic storage bags, storage sheds, and diesel-powered or hand-operated shellers and threshers.

Many farmers saw significant reductions in food losses. In Rwanda, for example, farmers who used tarpaulins for drying and hermetic bags for household storage reduced maize losses from 18 per cent to 4 per cent, saving 128 kg of maize per year per household – a major contribution to their family’s food security.

Investing in post-harvest management

Through its loan programmes, IFAD invests US$100 million per year in post-harvest infrastructure (roads and stores), processing and packaging facilities, and equipment, as well as in hosting trainings on post-harvest techniques.

Most small-scale farmers and rural entrepreneurs can’t afford to invest in post-harvest technologies and need access to affordable financial instruments to support such investments. Yet these instruments remain out of reach for many of these farmers.

For example, an IFAD-supported study conducted in four African countries found that, although many suitable loan products were available, in practice they were inaccessible for most small-scale farmers. There were various reasons for this: many financial institutions did not have branches in rural areas; interest rates were high; and the risk of borrowing without price and insurance guarantees was too great for small-scale farmers.

IFAD is encouraging private sector investments in food loss reduction efforts at both local and national levels through its various rural finance interventions. This includes our Private Sector Engagement Strategy and our collaborations with private banks, microfinance institutions and the public sector to develop appropriate financial instruments.

The way forward

Recently, representatives of the world’s governments, civil society, private sector and development agencies came together for the Food Systems Summit to continue the conversation on making our global food systems more sustainable and equitable. The Summit also closely coincides with this year’s International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.

These events offer us an opportunity to discuss the impacts of food loss on small-scale farming systems and to promote the investments and policies needed to reduce food losses between harvest and retail. Reducing food losses is a key step in reducing the environmental impact of small-scale food production and helping small-scale producers make their operations more sustainable.

For more information on the global effort to reduce food losses, visit the dedicated community of practice hosted by FAO.