A youth provides services to farmers in a rural setting (Photo: C. Mutungi/IITA).

Talking about food loss and food waste with Dr Christopher Mutungi, IITA Food Technology Specialist

By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to increase to 9 billion people. To feed the increasing population, agriculture production needs to more than double. While agricultural stakeholders are thinking of how to produce the needed food, the current food loss and waste along the food systems need to be curbed to secure food production. Thus, in support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in marking the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Food Waste, IITA Food Technology Specialist, Dr Christopher Mutungi was interviewed by Gloriana Ndibalema, Communication Assistant, both based at the IITA offices in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on how IITA is addressing food loss.

What is food loss?
First, it’s important to understand the extent of postharvest loss and food waste; it’s not just what people perceive as quantity lost. It includes quality loss in terms of nutrition value and captures the economic loss in terms of lost opportunity because farmers cannot make money or have food because what they have produced is lost or gone to waste.

How does food waste differ from food loss?
Food waste is more of a social issue, in the sense that people have the food, but do not consume it because they perceive it as not appropriate either by making a wrong choice or other social reasons. This happens more in the developed world. We have food waste in Tanzania, especially in the urban areas; for example, in restaurants or meetings, people are served with large portions of food and they end up leaving half on the plate.

How much food is lost in the world and Tanzania?
Globally the figure is between 30% and 40%. Tanzania’s food loss is about 25%, which occurs during postharvest. During storage, 15% of the produce is lost, and this is often caused by insect damage.

How is IITA intervening in the postharvest loss challenge?
Our target now is to deliberately examine loss in crops that make the food basket (cereals, legumes) driven by the infrastructure, facilities used, and capacity for storing the produce. The big concern are the timelines on harvesting and operations around harvesting. Farmers use cumbersome and time-wasting technologies. Therefore, the technologies that we are disseminating are those that help farmers to collect their produce and store it quickly, reducing the time crops are subjected to the damaging effects of bad weather and biological pests. We promote technologies that include collapsible dryers, motorized shellers, and improved air-tight storage containers. We promote them as a package; the expectation is that once you bring these together, you can reduce the losses by as much as 90%.

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Communications • 29th September 2020

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