Farmers in Uganda are bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘cut your losses.’ While European and North American countries are fighting food waste largely caused by excess, African countries face additional food loss and waste challenges due to lack of infrastructure, affordable transportation, and even harvesting techniques. Food that is grown cannot always reach the nations’ hungry, or the hungry simply cannot afford it.
NGOs have tried to tackle this issue in a variety of ways, one of which is teaching local farmers about better ways of producing and managing their yields. Over 15 years ago, such training came to Elizabeth Nsimadala’s small village in Southern Uganda and it indeed helped the locals increase their yields – but it also had unexpected consequences.
“The project, which was supposed to be a blessing to the communities, became a problem because there was overproduction, but the prices decreased. So, instead of getting money from bananas, a bunch went as low as 500 Uganda Shillings, this is something like a quarter of a dollar,” Nsimadala, a now 36-year-old mother of two explained to Free Speech Radio News (FSRN). “So it went so low, to that level, and people were instead chopping the bananas and giving them to animals. So they became of no use.”
Her situation was not unique; it is often more expensive to transport harvested food crops to markets than to let them rot in place without selling them, despite that even the farmers themselves may be struggling to afford food.
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“[There’s] $4 billion (USD) equivalent of food losses in a year in the continent and if you can conceptualize what four billion can do to alleviate poverty in our various countries, then you can understand the waste and the economic deprivation that food loss is causing the continent,” Nana Osei-Bonsu, the CEO of Private Enterprise Federation, Ghana, told FSRN.
“Apart from food losses, there is food waste, they are two different things. The food waste is the cooked food that we don’t use. At the end of the day, they are not apportioned to people who need it, and we have about 800 million in the world going hungry every day and we have excesses food that is going to waste.”
In response, some farmers are transforming what would otherwise become losses or waste into novel products with longer shelf life. Nsimadala, for example, is part of a group of farmers that is producing banana wine and is benefitting from significant returns.
“We were trained in banana wine production. We started on a small scale, but for any new innovation that comes, it takes some time for people to embrace it. But later on, our mindset kept on changing,” Nsimadala said. “When I do a comparison between the prices, it’s actually more than a hundred percent. A bunch that can go for $10, once processed, you can be able to make a net profit of $200 (USD), which is unbelievable to many. To me it’s a reality because I am doing it. We are doing it and we are getting the results.”
Nsimadala’s success has been hailed by the African Union but remains a rare case. Osei-Bonsu hopes the African governments set up agencies to buy and store food during harvest season peaks, for eventual redistribution during lean periods. African countries, through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, have committed to eliminating hunger and cutting extreme poverty in half by 2025. Arguably, this can only be achieved by avoiding the loss and waste of food already produced.