Mufutau Muyiwa - Jul 6, 2020

4 Ways Farmers Can Help Reduce Food Loss and Waste

Food waste manifests itself at every sequence of the value chain. Food waste and loss occur at the agricultural level in farms, during storage and distribution of food products, in retail stores and households. Farmers are the lifeblood of the world as they ensure a healthy diet by producing a variety of food items for human consumption, survival and vitality. Farmers engage in agriculture, raising poultry, field crops and vegetables for food. The agricultural sector is a delicate one, given its sensitivity to industrial actions, closures, lock-downs, political crisis, a trade war between countries and problems that may paralyze and already rigid supply chain. Efforts to curb food waste and loss goes beyond reducing leftovers and sensitizing consumers about the expiration dates and tags on food products. Seed waste and waste that occur when crops are harvested set the tone for the global food waste crisis. In this case, the food waste cycle begins from the farm and stretches across the supply chain to the final consumers. Food waste in farms becomes essential, given the sheer size of land used for agriculture and the food waste because of the lack of storage facility, labour shortages, harsh weather conditions, pests, difficulties in finding buyers and fluctuations in the market prices and demand for food. This conceivably means that edible crops are damaged and never reach the market.

HOW TO ReducE Food Waste in the Field

Reducing food waste is critical in the drive for sustainability and global food security. The food industry and other organizations have invented various solutions in an attempt to reduce food loss at the farm level. The industry has witnessed a variety of digital platforms like “too-good-to go” to quickly find buyers for edible food that were rejected based on aesthetics. For instance, current estimates suggest farmers dispose of 20-40% of farm produce that does not fit the cosmetic description of retailers and consumers. Similarly, specialized companies have surfaced with a mission to reduce food waste by bridging the gaps and inefficiencies in the food supply chain and market, which affects the timely delivery of food products to the final consumers. Innovative farm practices and strategies can be decisive for efficiency in the planting, harvesting, handling and storage of farm produce. This can limit the loss and waste of food products, especially fruits and vegetables.

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Food crop has to withstand attacks from pests, weeds, insects, nematodes, harsh weather conditions and other diseases that ravage food crops. Farmers should embrace agricultural technology, contemporary crop protection tools and mechanisms to nurture their plants for a healthy harvest. Technology can help farmers produce high-quality crops and generate less waste. Similarly, digital tools can help farmers with climate predictions and explore market conditions for specific or seasonal crops before planting. Notes and knowledge about the situation can then inform proactive measures, planning and decision making for optimal results.

Reducing Food Waste during Harvest

There are often remnants of food crops after harvest. It could be the case that the food crops are not ripe for picking or do not match the description of ideal farm produce, problems with the harvesting machines, the high cost of labour compared to the projected financial gains from the harvested crop. In such cases, farmers are forced to abandon edible farm produce to decay on the fields. Thus, farmers need to weigh the harvesting process against available equipment and workforce. Small farms have the option to assign an employee to track and pick crops missed by machines during harvesting. Large farms have to implement logistics, design a regular training plan and template that clearly defines and communicates the specific roles of employees at different seasons to ensure that significantly less food is lost or wasted during farming routines.

Transportation, Storage and Adequate Food Packaging

Food transportation is another critical decision that requires planning. The journey to markets and stores require proper storage (cooling or drying) conditions. Adequate storage processes and equipment can reduce levels of food waste in farms and eliminate over-storage and under-storage, which may increase the risk of spoilage and damage. Without adequate storage, insects and environmental factors may damage farm produce. Farmers should ensure that storage facilities separate sensitive crops, maintain the appropriate temperature level, as well as sufficient ventilation and hygiene to reduce the risk of contamination, which may affect yields. Thus, the harvest should be preceded by an efficient transportation arrangement to ensure that food reaches the market within the shortest possible time. Multilayer barrier packaging offer numerous benefits for the food supply chain. Barrier packaging facilitates global food supply, ensures that food reaches consumers in peak condition and extend food shelf life to reduce food waste/loss in retail stores and households.

FOOD WASTE IN Retail Stores, Restaurants and Households

Consumers shop with expectations regarding the cosmetic description and appearance of food products. Many consumers do not realize that imperfect-looking food items are of the same quality and suitable for human consumption. As a result, such food products are skipped by buyers and remain on the shelf. At the same time, supermarkets can sometimes end up with too much produce. Fresh food items without adequate food packaging may decay if not quickly purchased. Adequate packaging also facilitates efficiency in the food value chain. The lightweight and ultra-thin characteristic of performance packaging facilitate the transportation of food in large volume compared to other types of packaging. In this case, food products occupy less space during transport, and fewer trucks, trains or planes are required to supply food. This minimizes waste of farm products through the efficient supply of food products.

Towards Global Food Waste Reduction

As the global population is expected to explode by 2050, food waste and food insecurity are two sides of a coin that has become a dominant agenda in the global political menu. Training farmers in best practices, improved storage, and technological possibilities can reduce field and post-harvest food waste or loss. Of course, the global food waste crisis requires private, and public sectors collaboration to address inefficiencies in the food value chain; optimizing the food supply chain presents social, economic and environmental benefits for the global society. In our individual and organizational choices, we must first recognize the cultural, health, ecological, economic, and social relevance of food to understand the damage of food waste. Finally, stakeholder efforts can inject flexibility, efficiency and “value” into the food value chain; we must admit that food is a luxury we have for so long taken for granted!

Written by Mufutau Muyiwa

Mufutau is a marketing professional, writer & researcher

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