An estimated one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, and with the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, G20 agriculture ministers have committed to reducing food wastage worldwide. From the World Food Programme’s (WFP) perspective, what are the main barriers to reducing food waste, and is the G20 doing enough in this area?
The G20 focuses heavily on curbing consumer/distribution waste in more affluent, developed contexts. In contrast, the WFP is working with smallholder farmers from developing countries to stop post-harvest food losses and strengthen their capacities to better feed themselves.
Why post-harvest losses? Post-harvest food loss is one of the largest contributing factors to food insecurity and under-nutrition across sub-Saharan Africa, directly impacting the lives of millions of poor, smallholder farming families. Due to the main barrier of inadequate post-harvest handling, drying, and storage practices and solutions at the household level, within the first three months after harvest, farmers lose up to 40% of their harvest to insects, pests, mould and moisture every year.
These losses represent more than 20 million metric tons of grain, valued at over $4 billion annually, enough to meet the food needs of an additional 48 million people.
Because of such losses, much of the investments and farm inputs being poured in to help increase farmer productivity are being lost and are not maximised. The inability to safely store grain at the household level means less food is available for both consumption and sale. To prevent seemingly unavoidable food losses, farmers sell their crops quickly in the immediate weeks following harvests for low prices, only to buy back food at higher prices later in the year to meet their consumption needs. This poverty cycle traps families in yearly struggles to meet their food requirements.
Seeing post-harvest losses essentially as a logistics and supply chain challenge, WFP launched its flagship Zero Food Loss Initiative in Uganda. Borrowing best practices from Latin America, we are working with almost 60,000 smallholder farm families, specifically at the household level, to eliminate post-harvest food losses.
More than three years of research and action trials concluded that by stopping post-harvest losses, we can help farmers improve household food security, raise incomes, increase gender equity, and connect farmers to markets. WFP’s Zero Food Loss Initiative centres on three pillars: farmer capacity development training, improved storage equipment distribution and on-farm support.
Firstly, working with training partners, we teach farmers improved ways to better harvest, thresh, dry and store their crops. Farmers are also taught how to practically use drying tarps and various types of airtight storage equipment. Secondly, farmers who have attended trainings then purchase modern drying and storage equipment at a subsidised rate. When sealed, all storage options such as polyethylene bags and plastic and metal silos are airtight, and effectively protect stored grains from insects, pests, mould and moisture. Lastly, WFP provides refresher training and on-farm support to ensure proper positioning of silos and application of improved handling techniques.
As a result of the trainings and distribution of drying and storage technologies, farmers are able to reduce their post-harvest losses by 98% compared to traditional practices. By preserving grain quantity and quality, farmers now have more nutritious food to eat, and more surplus to sell to quality-oriented markets for increased incomes.
Under the Zero Food Loss Initiative, we have also established WFP’s Global Post-Harvest Knowledge and Operations Center, based in Uganda, which is playing a key role in rolling out this model and replicating it in other countries. The first trials are already under way in Sudan, and soon in Rwanda.
This work complements WFP’s parallel, downstream investments connecting farmer groups to markets through the construction and operation of community-level grain bulking and collection centres and larger processing and aggregation facilities under our Purchase for Progress Programme.
If the international community, including member states, works together to help farmers drastically reduce post-harvest food losses, we can lift millions of smallholder farm families out of hunger and contribute to stronger, more prosperous societies. While many innovative solutions and proven approaches exist to curb hunger, the world requires improved coordination and quicker action to rolling these out.
The World Food Programme’s former Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, says that social protection systems are critical vehicles to end both poverty and hunger. How does investment in social protection systems fuel development in low- and middle-income countries?
Social protection systems are critical to ending poverty and hunger; this is recognised by the G20 Food Security and Nutrition Framework. More than 1.9 billion people in low and middle-income countries already benefit from a range of social safety net schemes that are part of larger national social protection systems. Social safety nets can include, among others, conditional and unconditional cash-based transfers, food and in-kind transfers, school feeding programmes, public works and insurance schemes. In this regard, social safety nets, a major component of social protection systems, are among the main instruments for building resilience and for protecting the poor in fragile, conflict- and violence-affected situations. Social safety net programmes have also been shown to positively impact household expenditures on food and household food security, and studies have shown that the impact of these interventions persists well after programme exit.
In addition to addressing immediate hunger and contributing to poverty eradication, adequate social protection can help the poorest afford more diverse and healthier diets, which can help improve their nutrition by addressing, among other things, ‘hidden hunger’ or micronutrient deficiencies resulting from the inadequate intake of vitamins, trace elements and minerals critical for healthy human life; and improving nutrition can help the poor engage more productively in economic activities. This in turn can help strengthen their incomes and livelihoods.
Cash transfer programmes have been shown to help encourage changes in caregiving practices to promote early childhood nutrition, psychosocial stimulation, or health, thus enhancing early childhood development. Indeed, many of the 18,000 child deaths that occur every day could be prevented through social protection and essential cash transfers that could help improve their nutrition, health, education and care services.
Unfortunately though, only 28% of women in employment worldwide receive maternity cash benefits that provide some income and food security during the final stages of pregnancy and after childbirth. In Nicaragua, research has found that boys exposed to a conditional cash transfer programme during their first 1,000 days of life have better cognitive outcomes when they are 10 years old than those exposed to the same programme later in life. Evidence from Indonesia and the Philippines shows that cash transfer programmes increased prenatal and postnatal care, regular age-appropriate weighing, and facility-based deliveries for pregnant women and new mothers.
School feeding programmes help reduce hunger and improve food security and encourage children – particularly girls – to attend school by providing food, which helps them concentrate and learn, and ultimately increases their chances for a better future. School feeding also plays an important role in promoting inclusive and equitable access to quality education, as recognised by the Education 2030 Framework for Action, which was adopted last week in Paris. Other than its educational benefits, school feeding acts as an income transfer to families in need, freeing up the cost of the meal for other household necessities or even school supplies. Once in school, school meals and snacks help ensure that children are ready to take advantage of learning opportunities, as it fosters physical and cognitive development by providing children with essential energy and micronutrients. To ascertain impact on development, WFP has supported several governments in conducting cost benefit analyses, using academic evidence and country-specific data on nutrition, health, education and income transfers. In a sample of 10 countries, analyses showed the ratio of investment to return ranges from 1:3 to 1:8, which indicates that for every dollar invested in school feeding programmes, the economic returns for improved health and education among school children and increased productivity when they are working adults range from $3 to $8. The tool provides concrete evidence that safety nets, such as school feeding, are not so much a cost as an investment in a country’s development, including additional benefits for smallholder farmers gained from home-grown school feeding models.
With regard to other types of social safety nets, successful asset creation programmes have been able to mitigate the impact of specific climate shocks by ensuring food is on the table all year round, creating or maintaining useful infrastructure and improving agricultural yields. This enhances the incomes and food security of the rural poor, while unconditional cash transfers can stimulate investment in agriculture and other livelihood activities by easing household cashflow constraints. At the same time, they improve the amount and quantity of food available for consumption, particularly during shocks or lean periods. In Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico and Zambia higher income from predictable cash transfers have helped rural households increase investments in agricultural and non-agricultural activities to generate income. In this regard, cash transfer programmes have major positive spillover effects on the local economy of targeted communities, with a nominal total income multiplier ranging from $1.08 to $2.52 dollars for each dollar transferred. Through another of its corporate initiatives that promotes climate and disaster risk management as well as social inclusion, WFP has piloted insurance schemes for smallholder farmers in several African countries. In Ethiopia, these schemes encouraged farmer participants to save 123% more than the uninsured; they bought 25% more oxen and invested in seeds, fertiliser and productive assets. In one cluster, farmers increased their reserves of grain by 254% more than uninsured farmers. It was found that women, often heading the poorest households, are the ones achieving the largest gains in productivity, through investments in labour and improved planting materials.
At its Brisbane Summit last year, the G20 committed to strengthening growth by lifting investment in food systems via its G20 Food Security and Nutrition Framework. Has the G20 done enough to strengthen the global food system?
Food security and nutrition is critical to G20’s growth agenda and has been a G20’s constant priority.
Under the Turkish Presidency in 2015, the G20 went further and started the implementation of the Framework. It also adopted the G20 Action Plan on Food Security and Sustainable Food Systems. The priority actions are relevant to both G20 members and to low-income and developing countries, and pay particular attention to the needs of smallholder and family farmers, rural women and youth.
The G20 countries play a vital leadership role in world food security. The priority they attach to the implementation of the Agenda 2030 is equally important.
The world has the tools and knowledge to end hunger.This means ensuring access for all people to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round, ending malnutrition and increasing sustainable agricultural production. The Global Goals present a historic opportunity to change the world for the better. The 17 goals are ambitious, but with commitment, hard work and cooperation from member states, they are also achievable.
This progress toward zero hunger needs to be accelerated through increased cooperation so we can fulfil our promise and ensure that the next generation has a chance of realising its full potential.