The earth’s global food system is facing a quiet crisis—one-third of all food produced is never consumed while 1.2 billion people go to bed hungry or under-nourished, as global economic losses mount into the trillions.
This year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, The Rockefeller Foundation launched YieldWise, a $130 million initiative to demonstrate how the world can cut food waste and loss in half by 2030. The initiative represents the next chapter in our work to effectively address agriculture and food insecurity, which has spanned more than a century and several continents—from seeding the Green Revolution that fed a billion people across Asia and South America in the 1950s and 1960s, to the work of the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA) (in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), over the last decade.
While food waste and loss is a global problem, the YieldWise initiative focuses on sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 percent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. The continent is also home to many of the world’s food insecure people—those who lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.
In sub-Saharan Africa most farming is done by smallholder farmers who lack vital inputs to successful agricultural production, such as real-time reliable market information, modern tools, technologies, improved agricultural inputs, and efficient and effective transportation and storage infrastructure. In Africa, 50 percent of fruits and vegetables, 40 percent of roots and tubers, and 20 percent of cereals—all of which are staple foods—are lost after harvest or during processing.
These losses occur as a result of the aforementioned challenges faced by Africa’s smallholder farmers. Take, for example Sella, a potato farmer in central Kenya, who could not sell her potatoes at the local market because the price was so low she would not break even on her investment in growing them. Lack of access to other markets and reliable market information made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to get a better price at the critical harvest stage. In the end, the potatoes simply spoiled—a loss that affected Sella and her family, all of whom depend heavily on this farm income to put food on their own table.
Smallholder Farmers and the Private Sector: A Market-driven Approach to Post-Harvest Loss
Sella’s story is unfortunately all too familiar for millions of African farmers. Over the last three years, The Foundation has explored ways to tackle the post-harvest loss challenge as part of its ongoing work to strengthen the livelihoods of smallholder farmers like Sella.
While there are many existing solutions—focused mostly on introduction of medium- to large-scale technologies and facilitation of access to finance—these solutions have not been reaching smallholder farmers. YieldWise aims to bridge these gaps by focusing on intervention areas that not only directly target smallholder farmers, but require private sector participation as a more sustainable, market-driven approach to post-harvest loss.
YieldWise’s three intervention areas include:
1. Increasing farmer access to technological solutions to reduce crop loss
Currently, YieldWise has prioritized investments in places in Africa where farmers and companies alike are poised to benefit from post-harvest loss (PHL) interventions, and where the gains made will be most visible. Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria all rely on agriculture to fuel their economic growth, but 40 percent of their crops are lost between harvest and market. Simple technologies exist to solve this, and would most benefit subsistence farmers to build long-term income security.
These would better preserve crops in post-harvest storage, packaging, and distribution. For instance, transporting produce in plastic crates as opposed to less durable traditional raffia baskets or utilizing airtight storage options to help farm produce stay fresh until market prices are competitive, leads to less spoilage at farm and market, and increased profits for farmers. These and other solutions are expected to greatly impact post-harvest loss reduction and increase the amount of produce that makes it to market, and consequently farmer income.
The introduction of these technologies and farmer training has begun on mango farms in Kenya, maize farms in Tanzania, and cassava and tomato farms in Nigeria. Increasing farmer incomes by even 15 percent will improve food security and overall local economies through increased consumer spending, and YieldWise seeks to re-align actors and solutions by expanding farmer access to such technologies, and by linking farmers directly to suppliers and buyers.
2. Build diversified, sustainable value chains
The YieldWise approach is a market-driven solution to PHL. It goes beyond direct assistance to farmers to address the entire food value chain by connecting smallholder farmers to secondary markets and large companies to buy their crops. Currently, most smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa sell their produce to local or regional fresh markets. Due to various challenges e.g. poor infrastructure and quality control, seasonal variances, lack of access to finance, most secondary markets—supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, multi-national food and beverage companies—choose not to buy crops directly from smallholder farmers. Instead, the buyers often purchase from larger commercial farmers or readily available importers.
YieldWise seeks to drive collaboration throughout the food system by fostering partnerships with some of the world’s most recognized brands. New purchase agreements with large food buyers such as Coca-Cola—a YieldWise collaborator in Kenya’s mango value chain—allow farmers to quickly sell their crops to a guaranteed buyer without the burden of frequent travel to oversaturated, and sometimes distant, local markets. Dangote Farms Limited—another YieldWise collaborator in Nigeria’s tomato value chain—is working with the Nigerian government to source tomatoes directly from smallholder farmers to supply their recently-established processing plant. The second phase of the initiative will see similar private sector partnerships developed.
Rockefeller Foundation grantee PYXERA Global is helping Dangote Farms Limited to effectively establish and scale this scheme, while simultaneously introducing loss-reducing technologies and connecting farmers to other markets to ensure long-term sustainability of the tomato value chain. These will diversify farmers’ buyer bases, allow them to sell more, reduce loss, and increase profit.
3. Engage global businesses to account for the food wasted in their supply chains
YieldWise is working to encourage the global business community to identify and eliminate loss and waste in their own operations by increasing awareness of food waste in their processes and its effect on their bottom line. Reducing food waste can help companies reclaim some of the $680 billion in losses that the global economy is facing at the industrial level throughout their supply chains. This will help address broken links in the global food system, while also yielding better business profitability.
Creating a Culture of Sustainable Consumption
In 2015, the United Nations affirmed its commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 15 years. Realizing Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture; and Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; will require commitment and collaboration across sectors, industries, and value chains.
YieldWise is a first in global initiatives that is working with private, public, and social sector stakeholders involved in the food supply system to reduce food loss and waste. While our current partners represent a diverse array of private sector actors from various industries and sectors, achieving this objective will require many more players to join the cause. Individuals and organizations alike are invited to join in cutting food loss by half.
The Foundation’s work in Africa will directly impact the continent, encouraging the growth of local agricultural markets, protecting smallholder farmers, and decreasing food insecurity. But the effects of that work will be felt far beyond Africa, through investments in industrialized countries to reduce food loss at the retail level.
If nothing else, YieldWise will demonstrate that food waste and loss is not only a solvable problem, but one that together, cross-sector collaboration can help dramatically reduce for good.