For the longest time, food and nutrition insecurity has been a critical concern for Africa’s regional and national governments. In the southern Africa region, 2019 was characterized by a worsening food security and nutrition situation, with a marked increase in the number of hungry people. According to the Southern Africa Development Community’s (SADC) Food and Nutrition Security Report, the region had 41 million hungry people, eleven million more hungry people than in 2018. Apart from trying to restive citizens as a result of food insecurity, African governments have since realized the centrality of agriculture to the continent’s developmental trajectory.
Since the advent of development interventions into the so called ‘third world’, almost all investments have had elements targeted at enhancing national and household food security through the focus on production. The importance of agriculture in Africa was confirmed in 2003 when the African Heads of State and Government launched the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), in Maputo, Mozambique. The programme’s most outstanding characteristic was the requirement for African governments to allocate at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture as a way of stimulating growth in the continent’s largely agro-driven economy. With their focus still on agricultural transformation, and building on the momentum from Maputo, the African leaders adopted the Abuja Declaration on Fertiliser for the African Green Revolution in June 2006. Through it, they resolved to increase fertiliser use from 8.0 kilograms to 50.0 kilograms of nutrients per hectare by 2015.
Clearly, a serious tone for agricultural transformation had been set during the first decade of the century. Whilst not all governments responded affirmatively to these calls, there was a marked improvement in agricultural investments across many states as a result of CAADP, with a few exceeding the 10% threshold. In southern Africa, a case in point is the pioneering policy intervention by the Government of Malawi. Through a national input subsidy programme, the government availed fertilizer and maize seed to smallholder farmers, and successfully transformed the country from a net food importer to a regional exporter in the space of two agricultural seasons. The Malawi model, albeit with variations, would soon be adopted by authorities in Zambia, Zimbabwe and other countries, and thereafter served as the rationale that CAADP needed to justify accelerated public investment behind agriculture. Not much progress, however, was registered on the Abuja call to increase nutrient use.
A key observation of the interventions from 2003 to date is their slant towards boosting the continent’s agricultural productivity as a way of ensuring food and nutrition security. Even the CAADP’s successor, the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods of 2014, identified the need to accelerate agricultural growth by doubling productivity levels by the year 2025. The focus on production was illustrated by the declaration’s emphasis on the need to guarantee access to quality and affordable inputs for crops, livestock, fisheries, amongst others, as a way to achieving the commitment to end hunger by 2025.
Fast forward to 2020, improving agricultural productivity still remains relevant and important, however, there are other interventions that can significantly contribute to ending hunger by 2025. The continent’s quest for food and nutrition security can be attained not only through better production efficiencies, but also with the avoidance of food losses pre and post-harvest. Securing the continent’s harvest is a sure way of improving national and household food security, a fact which the Malabo Declaration acknowledges and provides for in one phrase – ‘to halve the current levels of Post-Harvest Losses, by the year 2025’. Unfortunately, this short insertion on the need to secure harvests has not triggered the desired or appropriate responses from regional and national governments, despite the alarming facts about post-harvest losses across sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), sub-Saharan Africa loses at least 20% of its food harvests during storage. Estimated to be worth $4 billion per year, this could feed up to 48 million people, much more than the total projected to be hungry in the SADC region in 2019! Given the magnitude of post-harvest losses, and the potential of corrective interventions towards improving the food and nutrition situation, there is need for a concerted and coordinated effort by regional and national governments, private sector, and civil society, to deliver against the Malabo Declaration target. In line with the ‘bird in hand’ proverb, there is scope in protecting the harvest at hand to ensure food and nutrition security, as opposed to dedicating all resources on production inputs, and thereafter, suffering the ravages of a changing climate.
Reinforcing the need for action behind a comprehensive approach to addressing post-harvest losses, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and its partners, highlighted the potential benefits of investing in post-harvest management innovations. Relying on the outcomes and observations from one of its applied research interventions, the Postharvest Management in Sub-Saharan Africa (PHM-SSA) project, FANRPAN’s CEO and Head of Mission, Dr. Tshilidzi Madzivhandila said, “Africa needs to move with speed to implement the various technically proven post-harvest management technologies that have been successfully piloted in Sub-Saharan Africa over the last 6 years. FANRPAN is moving ahead to amplify advocacy efforts to ensure that a considerable portion of current agricultural investments are diverted from production to post-harvest management.”
With 15,000 direct beneficiaries, the PHM-SSA project registered a number of achievements. The project successfully conducted on-farm validation of improved harvesting, drying, threshing and storage practices and technologies for maize and pulses that were suited to smallholder farming enterprises. To ensure effective marketing of improved PHM technologies, the project promoted appropriate public-private business models, and developed methodologies and didactic tools for dissemination of improved PHM practices. The PHM-SSA project also built the capacity of farmers, extension workers, agricultural training institutes, agro-businesses and other relevant business actors in PHM. The project created broad awareness on the importance of PHM through the media, public events and the mobilisation of strategic networks.
To ensure lasting PHM interventions, the project focused on embedding PHM in national policies. To that end, policy dialogues were convened with local, national and regional decision makers. Structured advocacy efforts resulted in the institution of multi-stakeholder policy processes, especially in Mozambique, where it mobilized the government to develop national PHM policy and strategy. FANRPAN calls upon other national and regional governments to institute multi-stakeholder processes towards the development and implementation of PHM policies and strategies.
The PHM-SSA was a multi-partner project which was implemented in Mozambique and Benin, as a component of the Swiss Development Corporation’s Global Programme Food Security (GPFS). Coordinated by the HELVETAS Swiss Inter-cooperation (HSI), the project aimed to increase the incomes and food self-sufficiency of smallholder farmers in SSA by reducing their postharvest losses of grains and pulses.