Combating food waste due to postharvest diseases
Food waste has become a scourge with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimating that 45% (about 1.3 billion tons) of harvested fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers are lost annually. These postharvest losses may involve a loss in quantity over time or quality losses of important nutrients, which may be due to contamination, such as from mycotoxins.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the estimated postharvest losses of fresh produce occur between production and retail sites due to certain socioeconomic factors including inadequate marketing systems, inadequate transportation facilities, government regulations and legislation, lack of tools and equipment, lack of information, and inadequate maintenance facilities.
In a blog commemorating the #StopFoodWasteDay, postdoctoral scientist Feyisara Eyiwumi Oni at Ghent University, Belgium, and a senior lecturer (adjunct) at the Unit of Environmental Sciences and Management of North-West University, South Africa, highlights the need to invest in reducing postharvest losses and waste, which she said will lead to an obvious increase in food availability and, by extension, improve food security. In addition, she said that reducing postharvest waste will avert the adverse health effects of consuming contaminated food, thereby improving food safety.
Oni also highlighted how reducing postharvest losses will enable the conservation of resources used in food production, such as land, fertilizers, pesticides, fuel, and water. Another advantage she mentioned was the increase in profitability for actors in the food value chain, including smallholder farmers and agribusinesses.
A major focus of her blog was the nature of postharvest deterioration and the causes, which include physiological changes, chemical injury, and pathological decay. She writes, “Postharvest diseases significantly reduce the shelf life of harvested fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, roots, and tubers in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the fungus Aspergillus spp. affects grains such as maize and produce mycotoxins (aflatoxins), which pose health risks to humans and animals. Some Fusarium spp. which produce mycotoxins are also postharvest pathogens of cereals and root and tuber crops.”
Read Oni’s full blog post titled “Combating the enemy: Towards mitigating postharvest disease losses in sub-Saharan Africa”, on the IITA Blog.