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The future of farming: Insights from the World Potato Congress webinar on combatting food loss

In a recent webinar hosted by the World Potato Congress, Luciana Delgado presented a comprehensive analysis of losses in the potato value chain, shedding light on a critical issue in global food security and sustainability. The webinar, titled “Opening the Black Box of Losses in the Potato Value Chains,” was part of a series leading up to the 12th World Potato Congress in Adelaide, Australia, in 2024.

Luciana Delgado is a Senior Research Analyst in the Markets, Trade, and Institutions (MTI) Unit, housed at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Delgado’s experience spans agribusiness, agronomy, and food losses, making her insights particularly valuable for this topic.

Luciana Delgado

Delgado’s presentation focused on the multifaceted nature of food losses, emphasizing their impact on food security, economic growth, and environmental sustainability. She highlighted that food losses represent a staggering $400 billion, accounting for about 14% of total food losses.

These losses are intricately linked to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including zero hunger, decent work and economic growth, and climate action.

The webinar delved into the regional and commodity-specific variations in food losses, with fruits and vegetables experiencing the highest losses due to their perishability. Delgado underscored the importance of measuring food losses accurately, noting the challenges in data quality, especially in low and middle-income countries. She introduced four methodologies for measuring food losses: aggregate self-report, category, attribute, and price methods, each with its unique approach and implications.

Delgado’s research, conducted across multiple countries and commodities, revealed significant losses at the producer level, with variations across different methodologies. The study identified key reasons for losses, including pests, diseases, and inadequate harvest techniques. Interestingly, the research found correlations between losses and factors like age, education, experience, and access to markets and technology.

Introducing the “Food Losses App”

A major highlight of the webinar was the introduction of the “Food Losses App.” The app represents a significant technological advancement in tackling food losses in the agricultural sector, particularly in the potato value chain. Developed in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this app is a practical tool designed to assist farmers in identifying and addressing the root causes of food losses.

Key Features of the Food Losses App:

Attribute-Based Methodology: The app employs an attribute-based method, which is one of the four methodologies Delgado discussed for measuring food losses. This method focuses on evaluating a crop based on various visual, tactile, and auditory characteristics. By using this approach, the app can provide a more accurate and detailed assessment of food losses.

Quantitative and Qualitative Loss Assessment: The app is designed to capture both the quantity and quality of losses. It not only measures the physical quantity of food lost but also assesses the quality degradation, which can have significant implications for market value and usability.

Value Assessment of Losses: Beyond measuring the physical loss, the app calculates the associated economic value of these losses. This feature is crucial for farmers to understand the financial impact of food losses and to prioritize interventions that can reduce these losses effectively.

Reasons for Losses and Solutions: One of the app’s innovative aspects is its ability to identify the major reasons behind the losses as reported by farmers. It then offers solutions to these problems, providing farmers with actionable advice and strategies to mitigate losses.

User-Friendly Interface: The app features an intuitive interface where farmers can input data about their crops, losses, and other relevant information. It guides users through various stages of data entry, from selecting the country and commodity to detailing post-harvest processes and attributes specific to their crop and region.

Insights into Emissions and Resource Use: The app also provides insights into the implications of food losses on nutrient emissions and natural resource use. This feature is particularly important for understanding the environmental impact of food losses.

Empowering Farmers with Scientific Evidence: By offering solutions based on scientific evidence, the app empowers farmers to address the identified problems effectively. This approach is crucial for enhancing the sustainability and efficiency of agricultural practices.

Confidential and Anonymous Data Input: Farmers can input their data confidentially and anonymously into the cloud, ensuring privacy and security.

Wide Coverage and Expansion Plans: Currently, the app covers 10 countries and seven commodities, with plans for further expansion based on user demand and data collection.

The Food Losses App is a significant step towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which aims to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains. By providing farmers with a tool to identify and address food losses, the app has the potential to make a substantial impact on global efforts to improve food security and sustainability.

Critical aspects of addressing food loss and waste

Luciana Delgado’s conclusion of the webinar highlighted several critical aspects of addressing food loss and waste, underscoring the complexity and variability of this global issue. Her points focused on the unequal impacts of food loss and waste, the necessity of precise measurement, the importance of targeted interventions, and the development of a business case for reducing food losses, especially at the producer level.

Unequal Impacts Across Regions and Commodities: Delgado emphasized that the impacts of food loss and waste reduction are not uniform across different regions and commodities. This variability is due to several factors, including the type of commodity (e.g., perishable fruits and vegetables vs. more stable grains), regional differences in infrastructure and technology, and varying levels of access to markets and resources. For instance, in regions with less developed infrastructure, losses might be more significant at the post-harvest and transportation stages, whereas in more developed areas, waste might be more prevalent at the retail and consumer levels.

Importance of Accurate Measurement: Accurately measuring food loss and waste is crucial for understanding the scope of the problem and for developing effective strategies to address it. Delgado pointed out that without precise measurement, it’s challenging to identify the most critical areas for intervention or to track progress over time. This measurement should not only quantify the amount of food lost or wasted but also assess the economic, environmental, and social impacts of these losses.

Targeted Interventions: Given the variability in how and where food loss and waste occur, Delgado stressed the importance of targeted interventions. These interventions should be tailored to specific stages of the food supply chain and adapted to the unique conditions of each region and commodity. For example, interventions in a region where post-harvest losses are high might focus on improving storage facilities and transportation, whereas in another region, the focus might be on reducing waste at the consumer level.

Development of a Business Case at the Producer Level: Perhaps most importantly, Delgado highlighted the need to develop a business case for reducing food losses at the producer level. This approach involves demonstrating to producers that there are tangible economic benefits to adopting practices that reduce food loss. For instance, if a farmer understands that better storage techniques or more efficient harvesting methods can lead to higher marketable yields and increased income, they are more likely to invest in these practices. Creating a business case also involves ensuring that markets reward quality and sustainability, encouraging producers to adopt practices that reduce losses.

In summary, Delgado’s conclusion brought to light the multifaceted nature of the food loss and waste problem. It underscored the need for a nuanced understanding of the issue, tailored solutions, and a clear economic incentive for producers to engage in loss-reducing practices. This approach is essential for making significant strides in reducing food loss and waste globally, contributing to greater food security, economic efficiency, and environmental sustainability.

Source: World Potato Congress Inc. Watch the webinar on YouTube here. A Spanish version of the webinar, and a list of other WPC webinars can be found here

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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