By Alexandra Spieldoch
There is little reliable data on post-harvest loss (PHL) and until recently it hasn’t played a big part in agricultural investment strategies. Only four percent of development assistance goes to agriculture and little of it for post-harvest programs. In light of high prices and lack of food availability, there seems to be new recognition that the world community can do more to prevent post-harvest loss as a means to meet world food demand.
In one of the most comprehensive reports to date, Missing Food: the Case of Post-Harvest Loss in Sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank, the UN FAO and the UK Natural Resources Institute indicate that over 4 billion dollars of grain are lost annually in Sub Saharan Africa, which is enough to feed 48 million people for 12 months. PHL equals half of the region’s annual grain imports, and exceeds the total amount received through food aid over the last decade. More investment in post-harvest technologies in Africa has great potential to improve food security as well as improve the lives of poor farmers. Helping small-scale women farmers get access to innovative, affordable tools that help them harvest, store and process their crops is a game-changer for development.
The U.S.’s Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation initiative recognizes the importance that appropriate technology can play in the efforts to eradicate global hunger and poverty. And, of course, there is room for big and small innovations to work side by side as long as they reflect community needs. We know that when these are not taken into account, projects fail.
For example, investments in large storage facilities in rural areas often sit empty. There are numerous reasons why this may be the case: farmer’s yields rot before they get there, certain grains are produced and consumed at the household level, or the storage facilities may be too far away.
There are other examples of investments in motorized machinery, which may work for mid-level processing in areas with local suppliers and infrastructure. However, communities in remote areas are at a disadvantage. For them, these devices can be quite expensive and when parts break down, it can be difficult to replace them or to get them fixed.
Again, technology—no matter how well-intended or innovative—has to be designed to support local and regional food markets that make sense for the communities they are targeting. Actually, women subsistence farmers are often looking for practical, smaller devices that improve processing while also reducing their time and their labor.
Compatible Technology International (CTI) has been developing this kind of tailored, affordable technology to increase production yields and improve lives globally. We prioritize tools that have a positive impact on a) nutrition and food security b) women’s empowerment; c) community development; d) income generation; and e) resilience. For example, our grain processing devices in Senegal are contributing to these goals. With traditional pearl millet processing, smallholder farmers often lose almost half of their harvests while threshing and winnowing their grain. With CTI’s tools, the yield can be increased to 92 percent and contamination is virtually eliminated. The processing is 10 times faster than what can be done by hand. Importantly, the devices have been designed and tested working with women farmers. They are easy to assemble, affordable, durable and do not require any kind of motor (though one can be added). They can be used as a suite (thresher, stripper, winnower and grinder) by women cooperatives. Or, they can be used as a stand – alone device for households.
Because of the potential to increase impact on local and regional food security, CTI is particularly interested in post-harvest tools for orphan crops. Groundnuts, pearl millet, peanuts, cassava, tubers, breadfruit, cowpeas, tef, fonio, and quinoa are all examples of crops that bring nutritional value. They are often difficult to process by hand but grow well in developing country climates. They also support local food systems by reducing dependency on imported grains and inefficient food aid.
Coordinated investment that ensures that low-cost appropriate technologies reach larger numbers of the rural poor cannot be stressed enough. We need strong leadership from all sectors who are willing to invest in common sense post-harvest solutions that are both big and small. This means financial support for design, testing and distribution models for getting the devices to the people who need it most. Ideas and innovations are brimming over. Now it is time to capture them and put them into use.
Alexandra Spieldoch is Senior Advisor at Compatible Technology International (CTI), an international NGO based in St. Paul, MN that has been has been in existence for thirty years. CTI designs post-harvest technology solutions to reduce hunger and poverty in communities throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. Ms. Spieldoch was formerly the Coordinator of the Network of Women Ministers and Leaders in Agriculture (NWMLA), and the Director of the Trade and Global Governance Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). She holds an M.A. in International Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Photo Credits: Compatible Technology International