Applying a Systems Approach to the Problem of Post-Harvest Loss

We are in the midst of a global food crisis. Enough food is produced to feed the world’s seven billion people, but a staggering amount is not reaching the people who need it most. This is due in part to the fact that 40 percent of fruits and vegetables are lost between farm and table, a market failure now known as “post-harvest loss.” While the food security discussion generally focuses on how to increase productivity on the same area of cultivated land, resolving the inefficiencies in the supply chain to minimize post-harvest losses must also be a priority. Each additional pound of food produced that reaches consumers is a win for nutrition and food security, for livelihoods across the value chain, and for the environment.

Post-harvest loss is an entrenched yet solvable problem. Its contributing factors are vast and its solutions require a coordinated effort across a number of diverse sectors and stakeholders. Loss can be caused by everything from sub-par inputs and harvesting techniques, to seasonal gluts, and farmer hesitancy to sequence and diversify crops. However, reduction of post-harvest loss will not occur simply by focusing on a single component within the value chain. Loss on a global scale will only decline if we confront the issue using a “systems approach.” This approach must be conceptualized on both demand and supply-driven scales.

Within the context of post-harvest loss, much of the conversation revolves around the importance of multilateral cooperation and corporate buy-in, and rightly so. If, for instance, the issue is surplus produce that is left to rot in the field and/or at market, linkages need to be identified to connect the supply with unsatisfied demand. Multilateral solutions and a market-driven approach are crucial, but must be met with equal buy-in from the supply-side – those farmers experiencing loss first-hand.

The sustainability of any post-harvest loss intervention lies in the staying power of a coordinated effort that involves stakeholders at all levels of the agricultural value chain. Establishing trust between farmers and unfamiliar entities (new buyers, transportation companies, development organizations, etc.) is critical to laying a foundation for sustainability. Recognizing that the rhetoric surrounding post-harvest loss will differ between all parties, opening lines of communication to understand varying definitions of loss is a necessary first step.

The sustainability of any post-harvest loss intervention lies in the staying power of a coordinated effort that involves stakeholders at all levels of the agricultural value chain. Establishing trust between farmers and unfamiliar entities (new buyers, transportation companies, development organizations, etc.) is critical to laying a foundation for sustainability. Recognizing that the rhetoric surrounding post-harvest loss will differ between all parties, opening lines of communication to understand varying definitions of loss is a necessary first step.

Here at PYXERA Global, we strive to ensure that the local business community is able to actively participate in and benefit from domestic resources. That is why, in the case of agricultural value chains, we believe that sourcing priority should always be given to local companies in order to strengthen local economies and promote community resilience, provided they have the capacity to undertake the task at hand. Multinational corporations can use their global expertise to build this capacity, as well as fill any gaps. In the case of Northern Nigeria, a lack of capital, storage facilities, and low margins are making it increasingly difficult for farmers to turn a profit. Facilities for temporary storage are non-existent and transit packaging is inadequate. The road network between regions producing tomatoes at commercial levels and the rest of the country are in a state of disrepair and pose an obstacle to the swift transportation of the perishable produce. Seasonal gluts force farmers to sell to marketers at very low prices before spoilage, hardly meeting the costs of production and occasionally selling at a loss.

Moving beyond rhetoric to action means laying out market-driven solutions to loss reduction that perpetually involve all parties. A market-driven approach must, first and foremost, involve a deep analysis of the private sector’s existing and future role in the value chain. If, for example, considerable loss is occurring during the transport of tomatoes from farm to market – in what condition are the roads? What role do local trucking companies play? If trucking companies are present, in what state are their vehicles? Could investments be made to improve the trucks’ ability to withstand rough roads? How are the tomatoes being packaged for transit? Are there better packaging solutions to minimize any crushing, bruising, or rotting that occurs in transit? These are a small sample of the questions around a just a single aspect of the value chain that need to be answered to conceptualize the dynamics of local and regional inefficiencies.

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Post-Harvest Loss in Practice

In 2016, The Rockefeller Foundation launched YieldWise, a $130 million initiative to demonstrate how the world can halve food loss by 2030. As an implementing partner of the YieldWise initiative, PYXERA Global is addressing issues of loss in the tomato value chain across Northern Nigeria. In its pilot phase, the YieldWise Nigeria program has created an outgrower, or contract farming, scheme to supply tomatoes to Dangote Farms Limited’s (DFL) new tomato paste processing plant in Kano State.

During the first harvest season, PYXERA Global served as an intermediary between farmers and DFL. Though DFL was a familiar name in the region, there was a dearth of experience working with such a large off-taker of tomatoes. At the behest of the Rockefeller Foundation and DFL, PYXERA Global stepped in to establish trust and understanding between the processing plant and the farmers from whom it was sourcing tomatoes. Simultaneously, it was critical for PYXERA Global to establish its own credibility as a dependable source of information and as a mediator in the region.

From a market-driven standpoint, establishing a solid rapport with farmers prior to the introduction of a new anchor buyer increases the likelihood that those farmers who supplied DFL during YieldWise’s first harvest season will choose to supply to the factory again – a hypothesis that will be tested during Nigeria’s next major tomato harvest in the spring of 2017. In the meantime, PYXERA Global has begun tackling the multifaceted causes of post-harvest loss in the tomato value chain by applying a systems approach – aggregating and training farmers on PHL technology and practices; linking farmers to alternative markets, such as supermarkets and hotel chains; supporting the Bank of Agriculture in providing tomato farmers with access to finance; altering technological approaches to handling and storage of produce during transit, such as redesigning raffia baskets and introducing plastic crates; and creating an enabling environment for post-harvest loss reduction by working with partners across the public, private, and social sectors.

As intersectoral collaboration begins to coalesce on a broader scale and best practices emerge, replicable strategies will help to build momentum towards solving the food crisis.

A problem as entrenched as post-harvest loss requires a solution that incorporates all of these components. Though the components themselves will change based on value chain and geography, approaching them as interrelated will increase the likelihood of sustainability down the road and will inform similar initiatives. As intersectoral collaboration begins to coalesce on a broader scale and best practices emerge, replicable strategies will help to build momentum towards solving the food crisis.

See more at: https://www.pyxeraglobal.org/applying-systems-approach-problem-post-harvest-loss/#sthash.FoRZq87J.dpuf

 

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