Robert D. Hormats | Credit: U.S. Department of State - Photo: 2013

Battle Against Post-harvest Losses Can Be Won

IDN-InDepth NewsReport

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) – Robert D. Hormats, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, speaking at a conference here on February 19, 2013, urged that solving the problem of post-harvest food losses should be made a global priority. That would be “a giant step forward” towards conserving the world’s natural resources. It would, as well, improve the food security of the world’s poor and boost the incomes of smallholder farmers in developing countries, he explained.

Measures to avoid post-harvest losses are “within reach” he emphasized – if “bold action” is taken.


The scale of post-harvest food loss is tragic. Nearly one-third of global agricultural production never makes it to the consumer or arrives in poor condition. Beyond the threat to food security, post-harvest losses adversely affect farmers and consumers in the lowest income groups. And, post-harvest food losses are a waste of valuable farming inputs, such as water, energy, land, labor, and capital. Having lived in East Africa earlier in my life, I saw the magnitude of post-harvest food losses in that region, and the tragic repercussions for human hunger, loss of farmer income, and harm to economic growth.

I have discussed the importance of reducing post-harvest losses in my meetings with leaders in India, Africa, and other parts of the world – and, indeed, at the G8 and at APEC. Post-harvest losses can be reduced through:

  • The development and dissemination of regionally – appropriate technologies and techniques, and
  • Adoption of policies and incentives for investment in post-harvest infrastructure.

New Technologies and Techniques

First, it’s important to develop technologies and techniques to reduce post-harvest losses that are appropriate to the needs of local communities. Needs vary widely, depending on crop type, region, weather, and other variables. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The U.S. government is taking a comprehensive approach to helping countries solve the problem of post-harvest food loss. This includes, the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative, which promotes a series of programs to reduce post-harvest losses. In Ghana, for example, Feed the Future is improving grain storage through better technology and processing techniques.

And, at the 2012 G8 Summit at Camp David, President Obama, other G8 leaders, and leaders from African partner countries launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

The Alliance emphasizes engaging more partners from the private sector in these efforts and taking bold steps to reduce post-harvest food losses.

Indeed, a number of world-class companies have already successfully deployed food storage and preservation technologies in several regions of the world. These companies are making a difference – supporting local farmers by efficiently moving their food products to store shelves with little loss.

In addition, private sector companies, NGOs, individual donors, and many others are investing in universities and research institutions – such as at the University of Illinois and at the University of California, Davis – to carry out cutting-edge research programs, some of which you will hear more about during today’s program.

Several entrepreneurs have also stepped up to develop new technologies and approaches to reduce food loss. I recently met with Promethean Power Systems – a start-up co-founded by an MIT graduate and a Boston entrepreneur. They have partnered with an Indian company called Icelings to develop a solar-powered refrigeration system for transporting fruits and vegetables from rural farms to city markets. Technologies like this will improve the livelihoods of farmers in India by reliably getting their produce to market and will help consumers by increasing the availability of food. In June 2012, Secretary Clinton awarded the Promethean-Icelings partnership the first ever grant of the U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund.

There are many examples of new technologies and techniques being developed to reduce post-harvest food loss. These innovative solutions are essential.

Policies and Incentives

But even with the right technology solutions, many countries lack meaningful incentives, affordable financing options, and necessary government policies to encourage farmers to adopt efficient practices. Many countries lack the incentives for retailers to invest in equipment, facilities, and stores needed to reduce food loss and broaden market opportunities. And, government policies and regulations in some countries make it difficult for investments to be profitable. That’s why – in addition to developing new technologies and techniques – it is critical that governments adopt policies that encourage greater investment in post-harvest storage and distribution network infrastructures.

Some important progress is being made.

I recently returned from a trip to India, where I met with government officials who have taken steps to open India’s multi-brand retail sector to encourage foreign direct investment. This policy shift was aimed, in part, at building modern food supply chains, developing cold storage infrastructure, and improving overall agricultural efficiency and sustainability in India. Foreign direct investment in the multi-brand retail sector – as well as the development of India’s own storage and distribution industry and post-harvest technologies – are critical for India’s overall economic growth prospects as well as for the success of its agricultural sector.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explained that an organized and efficient retail sector “will help to ensure that a third of our fruits and vegetables, which at present are wasted because of storage and transit losses, actually reach the consumer.” Prime Minister Singh makes a compelling point – one that was echoed in my meetings with the Global Cold Chain Alliance’s India Division and the Agra Cold Storage Owners Association.

I have heard similar sentiments in other parts of the world. The need for investment in post-harvest infrastructure is clear and present. It’s time to remove bottlenecks and unlock business investment. The Department of State, USAID, and others in the U.S. government are working with foreign governments across the globe to help facilitate and make viable investment in post-harvest infrastructure.

Meeting the food demands of an ever-increasing world population presents a major challenge for the 21st century. Among the most important and efficient ways to improve food security, nutrition, and incomes for millions of small farmers is to make certain that every bushel of wheat, liter of milk, or kilogram of rice that is produced is stored properly and delivered efficiently from farm to table. A great deal of work is being done to improve agricultural productivity in a sustainable way around the world. But, at the same time, we must also work to ensure that goods produced by farmers actually have good markets and reach consumers in good condition. It’s high time to make solving the problem of post-harvest food losses an urgent global priority – and to make such losses a thing of the past.

Success will improve the food security of hundreds of millions of people around the world, boost the incomes of millions of small holder farmers in villages and towns throughout the world’s developing and emerging countries, and represent a giant step forward to better conserve our planet’s natural resources. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 28, 2013]

Portrait picture: Robert D. Hormats | Credit: U.S. Department of State

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