Protecting Tomorrow: The Critical Role of Post-harvest in an Uncertain Future
In the midst of an unfolding, unprecedented food security crisis, this month the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss (PHLIL) led the essential theme of how addressing post-harvest loss contributes to resilient communities. Now more than ever, it is critical that all parts of the food system are empowered to easily, affordably and inclusively secure the harvest against the ravages of post-harvest loss. The wide range of blogs, comments and the final webinar illustrated a diverse set of technical and institutional innovations that are available for research into use, or continued scaling. As a post-harvest community, we are eager and impatient to see our collective efforts mobilized to their fullest possible extent, in the face of the catastrophic food security situation facing farmers and consumers, especially in developing countries.
As David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, emphasized last week, the world was already facing multiple food security crises. With the added covariate shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity and hunger are likely to increase around the globe. With the added covariate shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, the already stark projections for hunger and food insecurity in 2020 are likely to increase sharply, unless proactive action is taken. Robert Zeigler, Director General Emeritus of the International Rice Research Institute, and Chairman of the PHLIL External Advisory Council, wrote in his blog that “it is essential that for any food self-sufficiency strategy, or for global food security measures to work, there must be the means to store the harvests for at least one to two seasons.” While there is a growing marketplace of validated post-harvest interventions for use from the smallholder farmer to the industrial mill levels, the world is in dire need of efforts to scale them inclusively and aggressively.
Post-harvest losses span durable stored product crops, animal-source foods, fruits and vegetables, and more. To reduce losses in perishable foods, a functioning cold chain is essential. For durable stored product crops such as grains and legumes, proper drying and hermetic storage are the cornerstone of reducing a range of losses — from insect pests to fungal toxins — when smallholder farmers often run out of grains — by one third. Vestergaard highlighted in their blog how they worked with PHLIL researchers to validate slow-release and safe insecticide-treated hermetic bags that are highly effective at reducing post-harvest loss on farms. They also showcased Chombo, a blockchain technology they are piloting that would eliminate the need for person-to-person contact for smallholder farmers to access hermetic bags. This app enables them to share in the profits after aggregators purchase and store them until prices increase — a stepping stone out of the sell low-buy high poverty trap.
To complement the technical innovations, PHLIL and the contributed blogs also highlighted strategies to empower in-country partners as leaders and champions to address post-harvest loss well beyond the end of any particular project. Kansas State University is a global leader in agricultural biosecurity; KSU Vice President Jeff Morris, who was a key contributor to PHLIL’s National Mycotoxin Stakeholder Workshop in Nepal, talked about risk and crisis communication. Women and youth are also key target users and beneficiaries of PHLIL technologies, with cross-cutting research pervading our program.
To build resilient communities, better able to withstand the wearying assault of shocks in the world — and especially in developing countries — food systems must be empowered to secure what they invest immense resources in harvesting in the first place. Humanity has faced daunting challenges throughout history — as we confront and overcome food and nutritional insecurity through the pandemic, let’s all work together so safe and nutritious food can carry everyone over to a brighter tomorrow.