International community must focus on reducing food loss on farms

Wednesday, 5 June 2013 12:57 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Lost food means lost land, water, fertiliser and income - a devastating prospect for vulnerable rural families

On a recent trip to Burkina Faso, I met many rural families struggling to recover from the effects of last year’s severe drought. Crops were destroyed, livestock were lost and hundreds of thousands were left hungry. Now these families are rebuilding their lives and learning to become more resilient to the next inevitable drought.

As smallholder farmers in this West African nation get back on their feet, one great challenge is the potential for food to be lost before it has even left the farm. Food can become damaged, spoiled or lost when it is being harvested, handled, stored and transported. For rural families, many of whom already live on the edge of hunger, lost food means lost land, water, fertiliser and income – a possibility that is devastating for the most vulnerable.

Yet even as global food production has reached record levels in recent years, one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted. Therefore, I am encouraged that on this World Environment Day, we have the opportunity to focus global attention on tackling the problem of food loss, particularly in developing countries.

Fortunately, we already know what works. Simple and inexpensive steps like improving storage infrastructure and sharing good harvest practices reduce food loss and increase food availability on local and regional markets.

Through our Purchase for Progress (P4P) pilot project, WFP and our partners have trained more than 193,000 rural people in 20 countries in techniques like proper grain bagging, quality control and how to use silos. P4P helps farmers reduce loss, produce better food and develop a more efficient supply chain, which can lead to lower food prices. In Burkina Faso alone, I am proud to say that WFP is purchasing sorghum, pulses and maize from farmers participating in P4P, which we will use in our local and regional operations.

We cannot completely eliminate food loss. But if the international community works together to help farmers drastically reduce loss, we can lift millions of people out of hunger and contribute to stronger, more prosperous societies. As a global community we can make a difference, and to ensure we help change the lives of vulnerable people, we must.

Ertharin Cousin is executive director of the World Food Programme.