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Post-Harvest Loss Prevention Can Mean More Food for All

26 February 2013
Woman pouring a bucket of beans into a pile as another person’s hand holds a sifter (AP Images)

A worker in Dakar, Senegal, sifts cowpeas at a mill that transforms the peas into flour. Proper handling and storage of the crop increases the amount of flour the mill can process.

Washington — The United States wants to engage more members of the private sector, universities and civil society in developing solutions to the food security challenge of post-harvest loss, State Department officials say.

While a lot of work is being done to increase farmers’ productivity around the world, “at the same time we must also work to ensure that goods produced by farmers actually have good markets and reach consumers in good condition,” Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Robert Hormats said at a recent State Department forum on reducing post-harvest loss and waste.

Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez, who also participated in the forum, said more than a third of the food produced worldwide is lost, depending on the crop, region and climate, and because accurate data can’t always be collected. He said a maize farmer may a lose a portion of his harvest because of mold, rodents and insects or lack of a dry storage area for the grain, while a vegetable farmer may lose a large portion of her crop because she lacks cold storage.

The February 19 event drew 180 representatives of governments, business and the nonprofit sector who want to help feed more people by improving crop preservation techniques and strategies.

Hormats praised companies that have invested in post-harvest food solutions such as closed-top, refrigerated trucks to transport harvests to markets and processing facilities and in modern storage and processing equipment.

He said “a number of world-class companies” such as grain giants ArcherDaniels Midland Company (ADM) and Cargill, equipment maker Ingersoll-Rand and food retailer Walmart have successfully deployed food storage and preservation technologies in several regions of the world.

In particular, Hormats touted ADM for funding a post-harvest research institute at the University of Illinois and private funders of a crop preservation institute at the University of California–Davis.

One company represented at the forum was Massachusetts-based GrainPro Inc., which makes an airtight silage storage bag for cattle farmers and dairies. GrainPro also makes grain storage bins and low-cost, rain-protected solar grain dryers, according to Philippe Villers, company president.

Storage technology research has also come out of Purdue University in Indiana. There, researchers developed a three-layer, hermetic plastic cowpea storage bag. The bags already have helped millions of farmers around the world, said Dieudonné Baributsa, team manager of the university’s improved cowpea storage program.

Hormats noted that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are working with governments around the world to help them facilitate viable investment in post-harvest infrastructure such as warehouses, roads, rail and ports.

He said it is important that countries also provide affordable financing options so farmers can take out loans to purchase improved harvesting, storage and transportation equipment and that they encourage farmers to adopt efficient farming practices.

Hormats said that leaders of the major industrialized nations meeting at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, in June are likely to take up the topic of food preservation and how to ensure food security for the world’s growing population.

“Among the most important and efficient ways to improve food security, nutrition and incomes for millions of small[holder] farmers is to make certain that every bushel of wheat, liter of milk or kilogram of rice that is produced is stored properly and delivered efficiently from farm to table,” he said.

Man atop stack of bulging bags (AP Images)

A Cambodian worker adjusts rice sacks in a mill in Kandal province, Cambodia. Improved storage bags would help keep the grain free of insects, rodents and moisture.