Food loss, by definition, is the decrease in edible food mass throughout the supply chain. A common occurrence in developing countries, it takes place in one or more of the following stages – production, post-harvest, and processing. Though they sound similar, food loss is not to be confused with food waste, which takes places at the end of the food chain, such as at retail or final consumer level.
In developing countries, food loss happens for a variety of reasons, but is often due to either premature harvesting as a result of desperate need for cash or overdue harvesting because the crops do not meet the quality standards required by buyers. Another cause of food loss is the lack of infrastructure in developing countries for transportation of foods and processing. Unsafe food due to overuse of pesticides, fertilizers, and veterinary drugs, as well as, poor hygienic conditions of handling and storage also contribute to the reduction of a high-quality and safe food supply. Finally, the inadequate market systems for wholesale and retail results in food loss because there is no outlet for perishable products.
Though some of the causes for food loss can be addressed through capital for improved infrastructure, human resources for education, and the need for policy changes, others will need solutions from agricultural science field. Some areas of focus are:
- Application of digital agriculture technology in production, such as unmanned aerial vehicles with sensors, management of Big Data, and models for probabilistic decision-making
- Storage and handling improvements in post-harvest through hermetic bags, charcoal coolers, and edible coatings for fruits and vegetables
- Processing such as the deployment of mobile processing units that can be placed near the farm
- Alternative sources of energy for equipment such as solar dryers and solar panels for coolers
Addressing these problems will require the expertise of faculty from across the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture to develop integrated solutions to reduce food loss from production to post-harvest processing.
This interdisciplinary team of experts, the Food Losses Workgroup (FLoW), proposes to develop a comprehensive understanding of current production systems and value chains of horticultural and livestock products in Central America as a model of the developing world.
This study will consist of identifying limitations, desired outcomes, gaps, and priorities in research and training in order to reduce food losses in each sector. The team will then proceed with the design of integrated research and training solutions that can be implemented as pilot projects in El Salvador and/or Guatemala. The goal of this study will be to identify varieties and breeds of crops, post-harvest and processing technologies, as well as, best production and processing practices that will lead to significant reductions in food loss.
By addressing food loss in these regions, the College will better understand how to improve the lives of smallholder farmers, increase their access to nutritious and safe foods, and better manage the use of land, water, and energy resources. Eventually, the models developed in these regions will translate to other regions, drastically reducing food loss throughout the developing world.
For more information:
Elsa Murano, PhD – Director of Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture – firstname.lastname@example.org