Africa’s Post Harvest Losses a Business Opportunity

Published on 12th May 2010

Postharvest losses in Africa have opened a vista of untapped opportunities for agro-processors willing to invest in the continent.

The opportunities are coming at a time when crop improvement programs by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and national partners are offering better varieties and increasing yield.

“This makes the private sector a key partner in providing solution to the losses,” says Peter Hartmann, IITA Director General. In Kenya alone, annual post harvest losses in crops like bananas are estimated at more than 50 per cent but the figure is often higher in other parts of Africa. In Nigeria, the second biggest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, losses easily exceed one third for many crops. “Even in countries that are famine-prone, post harvest losses are still a huge challenge,” Hartmann says.

“Choose any market in Africa and take a walk during the close of the day and you will see heaps of food that is waste,” he adds.

Over the years, IITA in collaboration with national partners has developed technologies to tackle post harvest losses via processing of Africa’s major staples including cassava, maize, bananas, and cowpea. But this has been done piecemeal and on test sites.  There is a need for such efforts at a pan African-scale and this means getting the private sector – small and big - involved.

Apart from poor infrastructure which is the continent’s Achilles’ heel, Africa needs more investments in processing and packaging of agricultural products as the current number of agricultural processing firms is low compared with the demand.

In another development, Funded by WOTRO, the science division of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO),  IITA and partners have made a  headway in an initiative to naturally manage the most invasive and destructive pest of the crop, the coconut mite Aceria guerreronis Keifer.

The pest causes up to 60 percent loss in coconut production, directly affecting the food and income of millions of farmers already rattled by low prices of their produce and the high costs of farm inputs and labour.

Scientists have identified a promising predatory mite, Neoseiulus baraki, from Brazil. Experimental releases of the predator mite will start soon even as the project team continues to search for other natural enemies in the region.

In Tanzania, about 8 million people directly depend on the 25 million-plus coconut trees for their livelihoods. Coconuts are mostly found along the coastal belt as well as on the shores of Lake Nyasa, Tanganyika and Victoria. In Sri Lanka, coconut accounts for 21 percent of the agricultural land use and about 2 percent of the country's GDP. Coconut and coconut products also account for 2.5 percent of Sri Lanka's total export earnings. 

Commonly regarded as the "tree of life", coconuts provide about half of the total household incomes of tropical coastal communities where the tree thrives. They are an excellent source of food, as well as oil for cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

Coconut by-products are used to make cakes for animal feed, while coconut shells are used as fuel for cooking, as extenders and fillers in plastics, and for making household items. In many countries in Africa, the leaves and poles are used as building material and for making furniture. In Asia, the husks are used to make ropes, mats, and eco-friendly erosion control nets, among others.

Courtesy IITA.

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