Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Food losses where ever it occurs is a blot on the management efficiency in the agriculture and food sectors for which both food scientists and the governments must take the blame. According to estimates being made on food losses from the field to the fork, they can be as high as 50% of the production, sufficient to feed one more planet like the Mother Earth! Why is that such losses take place year after year since long and nothing much has been done to address this issue more seriously? Compared to the situation obtaining in the developed world where excellent infrastructure and modern storage technologies are employed for preserving food, it is the fate of the poor countries to suffer massive losses in the field as well as during post harvest handling, processing and storage, the major reason being their economic handicap for investing on technology and infrastructure. This situation is sought to be addressed in a limited way by the recent undertaking of a collaborative development project aimed at reducing losses of some crops in parts of Asia and Africa. The European Union must be lauded for its small initiative in this area by banding together scientists from different countries under an umbrella University in the UK. Here are a few details about this project with some far reaching implications.  

"The 3-year project GRATITUDE ('Gains from losses of root and tuber crops') brings together 16 project partners from Ghana, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. It received close to EUR 3 million of funding from the 'Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Led by scientists from the University of Greenwich's Natural Resources Institute in the United Kingdom, the project partners aim to find new ways of reducing waste during the production of food crops vital to families in parts of Africa and Asia. Another aim of the project is to develop new products such as snack foods from the crops, and seek new markets. The fact that the consortium is made up of partners from both academic and business will help meet this aim. Cassava and yam are important food security crops for approximately 700 million people worldwide, and their post-harvest losses are significant. These losses can be physical or economic, through discounting or processing into low-value products, or can result from bio-wastes. By reducing such losses, the role these crops play in food and income security can be enhanced. Post-harvest physical losses are exceptionally high and occur throughout the food chain. Losses in economic value are also high, for example, cassava prices can be discounted by up to 85% within a couple of days of harvest. The project will also focus on improving how waste such as peels, liquid waste, and spent brewery waste is used, so that higher value products can be produced for human consumption, including snack foods, mushrooms and animal feed. At the moment, growers can lose up to 60% of yam and 30% of cassava during the processing of the crops after harvesting through rotting, poor storage, transport and price discounts. The researchers hope to reduce these losses by implementing better storage and processing techniques to reduce waste and turn it into something of value". 

If one recalls the efforts in India to cut down on food wastage, an important lesson to be learned is that mere development and availability of a good technology does not ensure that this is widely adopted by the farmers and others concerned. More important these technologies need to be adapted to the field conditions, farmers trained extensively and effective monitoring ensured for the continued practice of these measures to create any impact. Till recently many agro-industries corporations at the state level were in existence to link up with the farming community for providing needed inputs for agri operations. But these government enterprises were allowed to wither away for want of greater attention and work efficiency. Unless such organizations endowed with the task of helping the farmers to practice best scientific methods to prevent losses, it is unlikely that these massive losses can be prevented to any meaningful extent.


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