Data and the Development of Practical Postharvest Technology for Food Loss Reduction
Dr. Lisa Kitinoja, The Postharvest Education Foundation
February 28, 2016
In the field of postharvest technology and food loss reduction, which has been garnering global attention in recent years, we still have very little data available to share. Although the SAVE FOOD Initiative of the UN FAO, IMechE, WRAP, ADMI, Feed the Future, the Rockefeller Foundation, World Resources Institute and many other global donor organizations are aware of the problems resulting from high food losses (with measurements ranging from 20 to 80% being reported by researchers affiliated with WFLO, PEF, BMGF, APHLIS and others, depending on the type of food crop and country)
to date there has been no systematic data collection. A wide variety of measurement approaches and methodologies in use has provided us with a scattered array of information with many missing elements. For most foods and for most countries we know very little about the current levels of food losses, where losses are occurring in the postharvest handling chain, who is responsible and what the many potential “solutions” would cost in different settings.
Funding is beginning to flood into this rapidly developing field of study, WRI and SAVE FOOD are developing new protocols and field case study approaches, and many organizations are making plans to measure losses and/or to reduce food losses. The UN Sustainable Development Goals include the target of reducing food losses by 50% by 2030 (Target 12.3). Past efforts in the field have focused on only a few key crops (typically maize, rice, tomatoes and potatoes) and documenting food losses in only a few countries (the U.K., India, Nigeria and Brazil).
This note on data is therefore offered mainly to point out where we need more systematic data, and recommendations on the types of data that would best assist us to track food losses and measure the results of our development efforts and postharvest investments.
Baseline data: For each country and key food crops/products, document the current level of losses experienced by value chain actors at the seven common postharvest handling stages (harvesting, on-farm handling, storage, transport, processing, wholesale and retail marketing),
Food loss measurement data types: Physical losses (weight or volume), quality losses, nutritional losses, loss of market value (economic losses).
Postharvest technology interventions: Document the costs and benefits of alternative solutions (i.e. changes in handling practices, use of improved packaging, storage methods, processing techniques, etc.) and any related the costs of the promoting the interventions (i.e. training, extension, finance and/or subsidies).
Tracking food losses over time: For each country and key food crops/products, compare loss measurements (physical, quality, nutritional and economic types of data) and the use of postharvest technology interventions at repeated intervals of one or two years, to track changes in food losses in comparison with baseline data.
Recent literature reviews by PEF, icipe and SAVE FOOD have uncovered a range of information on postharvest losses, but identified many more data gaps, in terms of regions, countries, crops and loss characteristics (whether quantitative, qualitative or economic). While it is recommended that any missing data be collected by those working in the field of postharvest technology, and that existing loss data be updated, the assessment methods utilized for data collection and data analyses must be better standardized so that the baseline results and subsequent measurements can be interpreted and therefore will be more useful for supporting local, national and regional efforts to invest in improved postharvest technologies and reduce postharvest food losses.