I have encountered two different cases both in the urban and rural areas that made me ponder about the post-harvest management and its probable cost on the agricultural sector and the 80 per cent people it employs and ultimately on the development projections of the country.
One case is while I was travelling back from Gisenyi over the festive season when I got treated to a surprise, that left me thinking about the vulnerabilities and risks some vendors endure, especially those in small markets along the route.
As I reached Gakenke district, my wife reminded me that we had to buy some vegetables and fruits in a common small market there.
Although we had already branched off, I remembered that I didn’t have cash on me, rather an ATM and credit card only, which I couldn’t use in such a place.
But before I could even jump to the thought of leaving the market because I didn’t have cash on me, the vendors all like in a chorus said “we can give you the items and you can send us the money via mobile money when you get to Kigali”.
This was a shock to me, so I asked them how sure they were that I would be honest and send them their money, since they didn’t know me. Their answer is what left me dazzled “either way, if you don’t buy the vegetables, they will perish by evening time.”
The vendors prefer taking the risk of not being paid (at the mercy of the customers they do not know), regardless of the 9 months of hard work, than have no hope of any income when their yields perish. One would defend this and say they are following a business perspective of “no risk no gain” but this is not a proper forethought risk but a desperate move.
The second case was one Saturday in October, 2018 when I went with my wife to buy home groceries at one of the big markets in Kigali city (kimironko) and I couldn’t help but appreciate the fresh fruits and vegetables, but it also got me thinking about the fate of perishable items if not sold off - as a matter of fact, there was some wasted/spoiled food that was dumped in the market dustbins.
In some countries, food gets wasted on the plate, while in others, especially developing nations, the problem is a different one, food is wasted in production, harvesting, processing and storage.
It’s evident that Rwanda has made great strides in agriculture.
In January 2018, Rwanda emerged 2017 Best performing country in implementing the seven commitments of the June 2014 Malabo Declaration on Agriculture and Postharvest Losses.
In 2016, the Ministry of Agricultural and Animal Resources reported that the post-harvest losses of food grain had reduced from 30 per cent in 2010 but was still hovering around 25 per cent.
But the persistent post-harvest losses (most of which is not recorded) needs collective efforts to reduce those who go hungry while others are disposing off perished harvests, increase the food security and ultimately reduce child stunting.
Post-harvest losses are heavy; they start from the farm, collection point, and wholesale and to the retail market.
Introduce cooling systems
Imagine a farmer spends about 2-3 months before they can harvest tomatoes, or 3-4 months to harvest broccoli or even 9-12 months before they can harvest cassava, only for their labour to go to waste, when their produce perishes, before they can sell it off.
So, while at the market, I asked the market vendors if they had any cooling systems, to which they said no, which points out an unexploited opportunity in agriculture – cooling systems, which if introduced to all the big markets can not only boost the sector, but also improve the status of food security in the country.
I am not oblivious that cooling storages cannot be the independent solution to prevent postharvest spoilage but it is crucial to integrate it if post-harvest losses are to be minimized.
It is assumed that reduction of post-harvest losses through interventions aimed at a more efficient supply chain that includes cooling systems in developing countries can have a direct impact on food security as it increases the amount of food available for poor smallholder food producers and increases the general availability of food at community or even country level.
It’s true that food losses occur at every step in the post-harvest cycle (harvest, transportation and packaging, display at the market etc), a situation that can be partially dealt with through inter-governmental collaborations.
The issue of food security doesn’t only cripple the agriculture sector, rather the ICT, education, Gender, youth and health sectors are all affected in varied ways.
Therefore, all ministries ought to come together to solve the issue: the ministry of agriculture as the maiden institution can oversee the supply chain and ensure the protection of farmers; the ministry of ICT can ensure data and information about agriculture and nutrition is available, accessible and usable to deal with the challenges of ensuring food security; the ministry of infrastructure can ensure all suitable facilities are in place, from state of the art markets, to good road networks among so many other collaboration efforts.
CSOs and Private interventions
Mid-year, there were some concerns raised over the persistent decline of the budget allocated to food security and nutrition over the past five years, an issue that means that there is need for more private investment and CSOs engagement in food security.
Many farmers have decried the reluctance of financial institutions to invest in agri-business ventures, citing them as risky, but according to one study, one of the last items people are not willing to cut from their budgets is food.
Apart from the fact that investing in agriculture and farmers keeps people fed and clothed, it also improves food security on the country.
According to the World Bank, demand for food will increase by 70 per cent in 2050; at least $80 billion annual investments will be needed to meet this demand, something that cannot be left at the government alone, rather also private investments.
CSOs can also heavily engage in agricultural interventions through various ways, like by working with districts so they can increase their budget allocations for food security and nutrition with a focus on specific and sensitive interventions and sensitizing the rural populations to till their land and practice agriculture modernization
As governments work on enacting favorable policies for agriculture activities or working on strengthening inter-governmental collaborations, the citizens can also make their contribution through minimal investments and interventions, to jointly deal with the challenge of food security.
Post-harvest losses are a complex problem and an integrated solution is needed to mitigate losses across the value chain.
As I call for intergovernmental collaborations, or more entrepreneurs investing in the sector, it’s imperative for farmers and traders to be educated on harvesting practices and postharvest handling and storage.
Improved post-harvest handling has a strong role to play in improving saleable volumes by increasing both the quantity and quality of produces.
The writer is the Executive Director at Never Again Rwanda, a Peace Building &Social Justice Organization. He is also a strategic adviser at the center for Public Health & Development. The views expressed in this article are of the writer.