Value-Added Products Reduce Food Loss and Strengthen Resilience, Food Security and Nutrition
The world’s population reached 7.5 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach about 10 billion by 2050. However, food systems are not performing according to our expectations. Thus, in today's world, about 815 million people are suffering from hunger. To feed this many people, global agricultural production must increase by sixty percent by 2050, which puts even more pressure on food systems, especially in developing countries.
A key goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve zero hunger by 2030. However, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than thirty percent (about 1.3 billion tons, representing USD $940 billion) of all food produced annually for human consumption is "lost"—the decrease in quantity or quality of food caused by failures in the food production and supply system—or "wasted"—discarding or alternative use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption. Food loss, a major issue in developing countries, and waste, a major issue in developed countries, occur along the entire food value chain, from farm to table. Perishable nutritious foods including fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy are the most lost/wasted food.
High levels of food loss reduce the incomes of producers, especially smallholder farmers, which negatively impacts their households’ well-being, making them more vulnerable/less resilient. Food loss can also drive toward environmental damage. A large amount of water, fertilizers, pesticides and energy are used to produce these “lost” foods, which in turn, produce high levels of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions; more than twenty percent of total annual GHG emissions are generated by the food supply chain. In reverse, climate change is associated with pest and disease outbreaks which result in an increase in food loss. In developing countries, the high level of food loss is due to poor management and handling; lack of infrastructure; inappropriate (pre-harvest, harvest and post-harvest) practices; lack of adequate cooling and storage facilities; lack of food processing technologies; poor packaging materials; and limited access to markets.
Reducing food loss can significantly improve resilience, food security and nutrition; it is also more achievable than increasing the production by sixty percent by 2050. Thus, reduction of food loss is an important goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG 12 calls for halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains by 2030). Reducing food loss requires multi-stakeholder efforts from international organizations, governments, the private sector, civil society and academia.
Value addition through low-cost food processing and/or preservation methods is an important measure to reduce global food loss. In recent years, consumer buying behavior has significantly changed. More people are consuming processed food than ever before, and the need for processed food is expected to increase in the coming years. Food processing can be done at two levels:
- Commercialized-level (trade oriented processing)
- Household-level (home food preservation)
The following are two case studies in the application of food processing/food preservation to reduce food losses in developing countries:
Case study #1 (Commercialized-level): Training ZAPCO Members to Make Safe and High Quality Tomato Jam in Malawi
Tomato is one of the most perishable food commodities, where losses can reach sixty percent, often forcing farmers to sell their tomatoes at very low prices, especially during the production season. However, tomato has a wide range of potential value-added products, including dried, paste, sauces, ketchup and jam. I spent three weeks in Malawi—on a volunteer assignment for the USAID farmer-to-farmer program though CNFA—training 200 farmers/producers from a cooperative called Zakudimba Producers Cooperative Society (ZAPCO) to reduce their tomato loss by producing safe, high quality, shelf-stable, value-added product (tomato jam). It is very important to consider food safety when producing value-added products. Therefore, the members were also trained in Good Agricultural Practices, Good Hygiene Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices, and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. At the end of the three weeks, the cooperative members were able to produce high quality and safe tomato jam.
Case study #2 (Household-level): Freezing, Drying, Salting and Canning in Egypt
Home food preservation is one of the most important measures to reduce food loss at the household-level. I spent three weeks in Upper Egypt—on a volunteer assignment for the USAID farmer-to-farmer program though Land O' Lakes Inc.—training more than 100 Egyptian women in home food preservation. The participants were trained on new product development, basic food preservation and the required food safety and quality considerations for different home food preservation methods including salting (feseekh, a form of salted fish that is traditionally eaten in Egypt during a national holiday), freezing (mulukhiyah), drying (apricot leather) and canning (orange and carrot jams). The training could also help the women to establish new, small-scale food processing businesses.
Developing countries should invest in value addition through low-cost food processing and/or preservation methods to reduce their food losses and therefore improve resilience, food security and nutrition. USAID should also integrate low-cost food processing and/or preservation methods into its programs to achieve the U.S. Government's Global Food Security Strategy goal (sustainably reduce global hunger, malnutrition, and poverty).
What are the main challenges that developing countries face in investing in value addition?