The worlds’ increasing population remains a major concern globally. How can the production of food keep pace with the demand for food? With several more mouths to feed? With over 60% of food produced a casualty of on-field post-harvest operations? In the face of climate change and increasing soil degradation, it certainly makes no sense losing a huge quantity of commodities produced to post-harvest losses. Meeting the food requirement of a rapidly growing global population is becoming a bigger challenge to mankind, with the population expected to grow to about 9.7 billion by the year 2050, and requiring about 60% extra food production to feed the growing population. In light of this, curbing post-harvest losses would be a long-lasting solution to increase food availability, eliminate hunger and improve farmers’ livelihoods. But what are post-harvest losses?
Post-harvest losses refer to any loss in quantity or quality of farm produce due to pest infestation, handling during harvest, transporting of produce to market or processing units, processing or packaging. Asides the nutritional implication on the ever-growing food insecure population, farmers are also endangered with regards to poor income and revenue generation in returns for their produce.
We carried out in-depth research to find out the major causes of post-harvest losses in Nigeria. They include:
- Lack of adequate information about crop handling and storage
- Biological and Environmental factors (due to Mechanical injuries to crop produces)
- Unavailability of needed farm machinery’ and equipment.
- Inadequate transportation facilities( e.g Cold chain transport for fruits and vegetables
- Unpredictable Marketing system
- Poor handling during harvest
- Unavailability of Storage facilities.
- Delayed Harvesting
- Pest infestation
- Poor power supply
Post-Harvest losses have huge effects on Food Security, Farmers income, and the pricing of commodities, which eventually increases the number of people living in conditions of extreme poverty and hunger; especially considering that smallholder farmers make up 75% of all people living on under a $1 a day. As such, it should not be treated with kids gloves. We have identified some actionable steps that could help curb on-field post-harvest losses as follows:
- Always update your knowledge about your crop of interest before planting and after planting to know more about the shelf life, storage, and handling.
- Keep learning about your niche by attending conferences, workshops, and seminars.
- Carry out a proper market survey before planting and harvesting.
- Adoption of modern farming techniques.
- Ensure adequate storage of produces, knowing the condition ideal for each crop. (Vegetables is always harvested in the morning, it must also be kept out of reach to sunlight to prevent wilting).
We have also identified areas of intervention in the crop production cycle that would help reduce post-harvest losses. They include:
Harvesting of crops should be carefully done to minimize mechanical injury like scratches, bruises to the crop. Know the best time to harvest crops to help protect crop quality and shelf-life. Harvesting done during the hotter part of the day causes the crop to wilt within a few hours.
Poor handling causes mechanical injury to the crop, mechanical injury provides sites for pest attack and physiological losses. Crops should be handled carefully to prevent bruising and breaking of the skin.
- Sorting and Cleaning
Adequate sorting and cleaning help to separate poor produce from good produce, thereby increasing their shelf-life.
Proper packing is essential to crops to help maintain their quality and freshness for fruits and vegetables. Proper packaging helps in cutting down losses during transportation, marketing, and storage.
Move Crop produce/ products gently to avoid damages which could lead to the produce or product decaying or rotting due to improper handling during loading and offloading.
Only store crops produce or product with high shelf life or quality. Maintain optimum environmental conditions like temperature, the relative humidity for each crop produce.
Processing is very important in curbing post-harvest losses, processing helps minimize high perishability of some crop produces e.g. fruits and vegetables.
Tackling post-harvest losses must be at the center of any plan for food security in our world. And while solving the challenges of post-harvest losses might require some investment in post-harvest infrastructure in some cases, in some other cases, filling the knowledge gap would help address them to a large extent. And that is why we have made markets and making them work for smallholder farmers a centerpiece of what we do at efarms. Efarms also runs a farmers academy which upskills people on different areas in the agricultural value chain, from farm to fork. We believe that if we build up people’s knowledge on post-harvest handling and make markets work better, we would significantly reduce the menace of post-harvest losses and guarantee the future of food.