Why post-harvest crop losses should be addressed sooner

Women separate maize seeds from husks before packaging the maize in sacks.

Dar es Salaam. The government wants Sh111.89 billion with which to address post-harvest crop losses as Tanzania suffers a critical shortage of current and realistic data for implementing its strategic development plans.

Farmers incur losses when handling, transporting and storing their produce - and this, according to experts, could lead to failure of the country to meet its national food needs. In that regard, the country would have to spend billions of shillings on importing cereals annually.

Without investing enough in addressing post-harvest loss issues, the Agricultural Non-State Actors Forum (Ansaf) executive director, Mr Audax Rukonge, says this would result in increased losses of harvested crops, thus plunging the country into serious food crises.

Mr Rukonge was speaking on the government’s recommendations at the stakeholder’s meeting to kick-start implementation of the National Post-Harvest Management Strategy (NPHMS) held in Dar es Salaam recently.

According to issued recommendations, 41 per cent of the Sh111.89 billion would be contributed by the government and its development partners, while the remaining 59 per cent would be raised by other stakeholders, including the private sector players and community-based organizations (CBOs). Other actors are international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), cooperatives, financial institutions, etc.

Speaking to The Citizen on the matter, Mr Rukonge said according to 1980 statistics, cereals losses after harvest stood at 30 per cent; 60 per cent for vegetables - and over 70 per cent for marine products.

“The country’s ability to feed itself will be adversely affected due to a mismatch between the country’s increasing population compared to its ability to feed its citizens,” he said.

He hinted that, as Tanzania will be struggling to feed its population estimated to reach 60 million, health problems - including memory loss, stunting and malnutrition - could be among the challenges leading to a declining economy.

Tanzania would also lose the opportunity to feed neighbouring countries within the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) - in addition to forcing it to rely on importation of food, according to him.

“Funds that could be used for investment in industrial development woud also be spent on feeding the population,” he said, calling on the government to strengthen its relationships with key players, the private sector, CSOs and development partners in seeking to raise funds.

Through good policy and tax stimulants, the government can secure significant investments in technological innovations to address Post-Harvest Loses (PHLs), according to him.

Mr Rukonge also called on development partners to widen the scope of their support for cereals storage so as to reduce PHLs. This is apart from the commendable assistance provided to improve irrigation farming infrastructures, the production of better seeds and ready access to fertilizers - just to mention a few.

“Increasing agricultural production without improving handling and storage mechanisms is a betrayal of the investments made to improve agricultural production,” he said, noting that increased support to the government, the private sector and CSOs would largely be helpful in reducing the negative impacts.

Also, he suggested that the private sector should come up with modern technologies that are suitable for small, middle and large scale farmers in various value-chain activities to reduce PHLs.

“Both the government and CSOs should disseminate information and train the public through the media to increase their understanding on the need to address crop losses after harvesting,” he said.

Presenting the government budget, a principal agricultural officer at the Department of National Food Security in the ministry of Agriculture, Ms Margaret Natai, said the Sh111 billion would be used for a period of five years.

“It is intended to implement nine strategic objectives, including building awareness on good handling practices for harvested crops; promoting availability, accessibility and adoption of tested technologies in order to reduce PHLs; and facilitating agricultural marketing systems that would improve farmers’ access to markets,” she said.

According to her, other strategic objectives are promoting research and innovations of new and appropriate technologies and methods to reduce PHLs; putting in place new guidelines and regulations to enhance standards and practices that minimize the problem, as well as strengthening coordination, partnerships and stakeholders involvement.

“The budget will also enhance adoption of PHMS to mitigate the effects of climate change; address inadequacy in PHM financing and developing standard methodologies for collection of data, and accurately estimating PHLs in the country,” she said.

The budget shows that, while Sh20.36 billion will be used in the first year, Sh11.19 billion would be used in the second year, and Sh28.31 billion in the third year. Then Sh16.78 billion and Sh35.27 billion would be spent in the fourth and fifth years respectively.

According to the budget, facilitating agricultural systems to improve market access and minimize PHLs was expected to consume Sh66.59 billion in all the five years, while creating awareness and good handling processes would receive Sh25.88 billion.

The budget also shows that Sh10.45 billion has been set aside for promoting research and the invention of appropriate technologies and methods to reduce crop losses after harvest. Promoting availability, accessibility and adoption of tested technologies would receive Sh3.08 billion.

Apart from strengthening coordination, partnerships and stakeholders’ coordination has been allocated Sh2.87 billion budget; implementation of the remaining objectives would be funded by less than Sh1.5 billion.

Speaking during the event, the National Post-Harvest Management Strategy (NPHMS) task force chairman, Mr Clepin Josephat, said the strategy was launched in Simiyu Region last year by the Vice President, Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan.

The strategy was in line with the Global Food Security Challenge-2050 to feed nine billion people under Sustainable Development Goals I & II that call for collective efforts to address the challenges of ‘Poverty and Hunger.’

“These efforts are also in line with the Global Initiatives-2010 of the Committee on World Food Security (CWFS), as well as continental and reginal strategies such as the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) set in the Malabo Convention-2014 that aims to halve crop losses after harvesting by 2025,” he said.

According to him, annual crops losses in sub-Saharan Africa (s-SA) amount to over $4 billion in value.

Speaking during the event, the Tanzania deputy minister for Agriculture, Omary Mgumba, said stakeholders should start using the NFRA storage facilities and technologies to reduce crop losses after harvesting, and improve the quality of local produce.

“NFRA warehouses can store 251,000 tonnes of cereals. However, Parliament passed a budget for the purchase of only 15,000 tonnes of cereals this season - leaving over 150,000 tonnes of storage capacity unutilized,” he said.

“The government has, therefore, been advising NFRA to lease out its warehouses and technology to private stakeholders for the storage of their agricultural produce.”

According to him, the quality of Tanzanian maize can hardly compete in the global markets. So, better use of NFRA technologies would strongly address the challenge, according to him.

For his part, Mr Fidelis Temu of the Warehouse Receipt Regulatory Board (WRRB) said the board is committed to supporting efforts to reduce post-harvest crop losses through Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Societies (Amcos) and farmers’ cooperatives.

“We will collaborate with NRFA to make better use of all the available storage space in warehouses for proper and improved preservation of cereals and other commodities under the Warehouse Receipt System (WRS),” he said.

He promised that WRRB would provide technological support for the collection of commodities in silos as well as providing financial support for users of the warehouse receipt system.

Global trend on postharvest loss

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food are lost or otherwise wasted annually - with the industrialized countries losing $680 billion of that, compared to developing countries which lose $310 billion-worth.

A publication by Ansaf titled ‘Post-harvest management in the global context of food wastes’ shows that an estimated one-third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide is either lost or wasted.

Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost 222 million tonnes, which is equivalent to the entire food produced the s-SA region, i.e. 230 million tonnes, according to Ansaf.

The publication also shows that over 40 per cent of the losses in developed countries occur at the post-harvest and processing levels rather than at the retail and consumption stages.

Post-harvest at continental context

Africa scored zero in reducing postharvest losses in 2017, against a target of ten per cent towards halving the plight by 2025, according to a recent report.

The new development was experienced in January 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the launching of the African Union Commission (AUC) Biennial Review Report on the Implementation of the Malabo Declaration.

“A key challenge related to this performance is the inability of the countries to capture and record data on physical losses - perhaps as a result of unavailability or weak national monitoring and evaluation systems,” reads the BRR 2017 report in part.