Skip navigation

Missing food: the case of postharvest grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa

Missing food: the case of postharvest grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa

Zorya, Sergiy, Morgan, Nancy, Diaz Rios, Luz, Hodges, Rick, Bennett, Ben, Stathers, Tanya ORCID: 0000-0002-7767-6186, Mwebaze, Paul and Lamb, John (2011) Missing food: the case of postharvest grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa. Technical Report. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank, Washington DC, USA.

Full text not available from this repository.


Low-income, food-deficit countries have become especially concerned about the global and national food situation over the past three years. While the proximate cause of this heightened concern was the surge in food prices that began in 2006 and peaked in mid-2008, concerns remain for other reasons, among them the higher market-clearing price levels that now seem to prevail, continuing price volatility, and the risk of intermittent food shortages occurring repeatedly far into the future. For lower-income Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries, ongoing contributing factors include persistently low productivity, difficulty adapting to climate change, financial difficulties (inability to handle the burden of high food or fuel prices or a credit squeeze), and increased dependence on food aid. Yet there is an additional, often-forgotten factor that exacerbates food insecurity: postharvest losses (PHL). They can and do occur all along the chain from farm to fork, which reduces real income for all consumers. This especially affects the poor, as such a high percentage of their disposable income is devoted to staple foods.

Interest in the reduction of PHL is not new. After the mid-1970s food crisis, considerable development investment went into PHL reduction for staple crops. In fact, in 1975, the United Nations brought postharvest storage losses into international focus when it declared that “further reduction of postharvest food losses in developing countries should be undertaken as a matter of priority” (FAO 1981). Unfortunately, once real commodity prices resumed their historical downward trend, the policy shifted to emphasize food security through economic liberalization and trade. The world seems to have forgotten the importance of postharvest food losses in the African grain sector, and those networks or programs that sought to reduce them, such as FAO’s Prevention of Food Losses Program and the Global Postharvest Forum (PhAction), have fallen into abeyance. The low adoption of the PHL technologies promoted in various SSA countries has also led to the declining investments in this area.

With renewed emphasis on agriculture, and in the aftermath of the recent food and financial crises, the profile of PHL has been significantly raised. Interventions in PHL reduction are seen as an important element of the efforts of many agencies to reduce food insecurity in SSA. PHL is increasingly recognized as part of an integrated approach to realizing agriculture’s full potential to meet the world’s increasing food and energy needs. Therefore, reducing PHL—along with making more effective uses of today’s crops, improving productivity on existing farmland, and sustainably bringing additional acreage into production— is critical to facing the challenge of feeding an increased world population. Postharvest losses feature prominently in recent global initiatives such as the Comprehensive Framework for Action issued in 2009 by the UN High-Level Task Force for Food Security and Nutrition after the global food crisis, the Global Agricultural and Food Security Program endorsed by the World Bank in January 2010, and the recently reformed Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

It is clearly recognized that the context of agricultural production and marketing in SSA has evolved since the 1970s and 1980s, as have the challenges associated with PHL reduction. Changes have included (i) increasing competition from international markets in the wake of market liberalization; (ii) the state’s withdrawal from grain marketing activities that provided the commercial sector with variable technical support in grain handling and storage; (iii) development of more sophisticated grain value chains coordinated by an emerging private sector; (iv) increased regional integration, which has resulted in the easier movement of grain but with limited monitoring of quality; (v) impacts of HIV/AIDS and urbanization on labor availability; (vi) spread of the larger grain borer, a devastating storage pest; (vii) introduction of varieties with high yield that require inputs and are more susceptible to pest attack; (viii) increasing land fragmentation, with a corresponding decrease of farm size, accompanied by declining soil fertility; (ix) erratic weather patterns that have led to recurrent failures in harvests and consequent food shortages; and (x) the erosion of postharvest expertise to serve the needs of developing country producers and supply chains.

Limited success in reducing PHL and a shrinking technical capacity to respond to the challenges of PHL reduction highlight the need to build up a knowledge base of lessons to raise the profile of PHL and to provide best practices and practical recommendations for scaling up. Consequently, the World Bank undertook this policy-oriented research of the current state of knowledge and technology related to PHL reduction. It did so in collaboration with FAO, with the expertise of the U.K. Natural Resources Institute, and with contributions of key PHL stakeholders and institutions, capturing lessons from past interventions that could provide insights for the implementation of effective PHL strategies. This analysis looks at the evolution of public and private sector responses over the last two decades to reduce losses along the various stages of the supply chains and supports and to build on the African Development Bank’s current Post Harvest Loss Initiative for SSA. It also highlights critical factors that determine technology uptake and sustainable use, with a focus on gender dimensions of technology adoption for reducing PHL. The main findings of this research are discussed in the following pages.

Item Type: Monograph (Technical Report)
Additional Information: [1] Report Number: 60371-AFR. [2] This is a Economic and Sector Work. Economic and Sectoral Work (ESW) Studies are original analytic reports authored by the World Bank and intended to influence programs and policy in client countries. [3] This volume is a product of the staff of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank; the Natural Resources Institute, United Kingdom; and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Uncontrolled Keywords: postharvest losses, cereals, postharvest technologies, Africa
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Food & Markets Department
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 13 May 2014 11:59

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item