Tackling Food Loss and Waste

Chapter From

The Proceedings of the Workshop on"Reduction of Food Loss and Waste"Vatican City, 2020Scripta Varia 147ISBN 978-88-7761-115-4

Edited by:

Joachim von Braun, Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo & Roy SteinerIn partnership between the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Rockefeller Foundation

By: Dirk E. Maier, Steve Sonka, Toine Timmermans, Cassie Welch McGee & Kyle Poorman

Food loss and waste (FLW) is a global problem that negatively impacts the bottom line of businesses and farmers, wastes limited resources, and damages the environment. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), The Rockefeller Foundation, Iowa State University (USA), University of Maryland (USA), Wageningen University and Research (The Netherlands), Volcani Center (Israel), Zamorano University (Honduras), Stellenbosch University (South Africa), University of São Paulo (Brazil), University of Nairobi (Kenya), and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana) have partnered to establish the Global Consortium for Innovation in Post-Harvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction. Through this Consortium, thought leaders and experts from across the globe work in tandem with industry and nonprofit organizations to address social, economic and environmental impacts caused by FLW. The Consortium’s agenda is focused on preserving nutrients, improving livelihoods, and realizing an efficient food system.

Feeding a growing global population nutritious food demands innovation at all levels — from planting to processing to consumption. The Consortium works with farmers, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and other stakeholders throughout the global food supply chain to use scientific knowledge, practical technology, applied research, and innovative entrepreneurship to manage and steward resources effectively and efficiently. Optimizing food production and preservation practices is critical for ensuring that farmers are profitable, nutritious food is plentiful and accessible, and the environment is protected.

The mass of food moved globally is enormous. The World Bank estimates that annual value of the global food system at approximately $8 trillion (van Nieuwkoop, 2019) or approximately 10% of the annual value of the global economy. According to FAO, 4 billion tons of food is produced annually, and 1.3 billion tons is lost or wasted. Much of this food is lost in the initial steps of the food value chain, which makes the logistics of the first mile from harvest to the initial preservation point critical in mitigating FLW. For example, more than 40% of fruits and vegetables in lower income countries spoil before they can be consumed, affecting producers, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers. These include mangos, avocados, pineapples, cocoa, and bananas – all of which are in high demand and imported by medium- and high-income countries. These fruits and vegetables are also essential to a healthy and nutritious diet. Preserving healthy foods has significant direct and indirect economic benefits and could have profound impacts for countries throughout the development spectrum. For example, the availability of healthy foods in the United States has been linked to increased life expectancy and reduced instances of chronic, non-contagious diseases (Bell et al., 2013). Additionally, these studies have often been conducted in the context of community access to markets that sell healthy vegetables. In the United States, low income and minority communities are often underserved, resulting in poor health outcomes because of limited access to healthy food (Bell et al., 2013). The ability to reliably service communities around the world with healthy foods will depend on the ability to build efficient food value chains that preserve more nutrients by reducing loss and waste and building better supply chains. Healthier diets will translate into lower healthcare costs, as well as increased sellable fruits and vegetables that will benefit farmers and businesses throughout the food supply chain.

Post-harvest loss (PHL) and food waste (FW) negatively impacts the bottom line, especially that of smallholder farmers (SHF) who are not compensated for spoilage or loss of their products. Consequently, consumers have reduced access to certain foods or must pay a higher price. Additionally, FLW forces farmers to use precious natural resources producing food that either never makes it to the supermarket or is otherwise thrown out by consumers due to short shelf-life or quality issues, creating a significant drain on environmental resources.

The Consortium approach focuses on building academic and entrepreneurial capacity by engaging researchers and students in multi-national, multi-disciplinary teams for project identification, planning, and execution phases, together with experts and entrepreneurs from the private and public sectors. The Consortium aims to:

1. Advance a common, collaborative research agenda focused on deploying member expertise across the global food system.2. Enhance academic and entrepreneurial capacity of the next generation to deliver nutritious foods and ensure food security. 3. Develop practical approaches to measure value chain loss and waste.4. Increase efficiencies in the global food system to sustainably preserve nutrients.5. Achieve sustained, scalable implementation of appropriate methods to preserve, process, package, and transport nutritious foods.

The remainder of this chapter highlights Consortium research projects that are impacting FLW across sub-Saharan Africa.

Mobile Processing Facilities for Perishable Crops

Authors: Bert Dijkink and Jan Broeze, Wageningen University & Research

Consortium scientists from Wageningen University and Research, through their affiliation with CGIAR’s research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), have analyzed loss and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with different types of cassava processing methods in Mozambique. Mobile processing facilities have previously been identified as a key innovation and intervention technology for reducing FLW (Farley et al., 2017), and it is anticipated that the results will be applicable to other perishable crops and locales.

The study compared three configurations for supplying cassava to a facility and demonstrated that for such a highly perishable crop a mobile processing facility was by far the best loss reducing option. Mobile processing cut PHL of cassava to 15% from 40-50% found in traditional village-level processing and processing in a centralized regional factory. This represents a 67% PHL reduction due to mobile processing. Additionally, GHG emissions were reduced by 20% and 40% compared to importing starch products and large-scale centralized processing. Reasons for the gains realized are just-in-time harvesting and delivery of cassava in the vicinity of the mobile processing facility, and reduction of energy and other costs for transporting water in raw cassava from fields to a regional processing factory compared to transporting shelf-stable starch products.

Consortium members have initiated life-cycle analysis projects to evaluate the potential of mobile processing facility to reduce PHL and GHG emissions, and increase profitability of SHFs and SMEs in several additional value chains and countries, including oriental vegetables in Honduras, cassava in Ghana, and mangos in Kenya.

YieldWise Initiative Value Chain Analysis

Consortium researchers have been studying key aspects of The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise Initiative with a focus on identifying and communicating lessons learned based on the substantial amount of data gathered and developing a predictive model to quantify PHL of perishable crops.

YieldWise Initiative Background

In 2016, The Rockefeller Foundation launched the YieldWise Initiative aimed at reducing PHL in lower income countries (i.e., Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania), and FW in the United States. In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), YieldWise provided SHFs and SMEs with access to segmented markets, financing, and technologies and solutions that curb preventable crop loss, and facilitated training that helped them solidify agreements with local, regional and national buyers.

The YieldWise Initiative incorporated the following four action pillars:

  1. Access to technologies: promoting the adoption of appropriate loss-reducing technologies.
  2. Access to finance: collaborating with financial institutions to develop credit products that can be accessed by farmers and farmer-based organizations.
  3. Aggregation and training: training farmers and other supply chain actors in post-harvest management and facilitating development of local aggregation centers.
  4. Access to markets: stimulating demand by engaging actors across the diverse ecosystem of buyers.

Across these pillars, as appropriate, the YieldWise Initiative engaged both the private sector as key partners and government entities for collaboration. Initial results were encouraging, indicating loss reduction of between 20-30 percent, according to maize and mango catalytic demonstrations. The YieldWise Initiative engaged approximately 200,000 farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria. This also contributed to a high uptake and utilization of loss-reducing technologies and practices across the three value chains: maize, mango, and tomato in Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, respectively (https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/our-work/initiatives/yieldwise/).

YieldWise Initiative Lessons Learned in the Mango Value Chain

Authors: Steve Sonka and Rajshree Agarwal, University of Maryland

The Consortium has been analyzing the entirety of the YieldWise Initiative through a set of after-action follow-ups with stakeholders of the three value chain interventions. This analysis has led to the development of a set of lessons learned. An initial set of lessons were derived from the findings of intensive qualitative, in-person interviews held in 2019 with stakeholders of the Kenyan mango sector. Ultimately, the findings emphasized the value of a more comprehensive systems approach when attempting to implement and subsequently understand the contributions of value chain interventions. A key premise of the YieldWise Initiative is that effective interventions need to extend beyond technology provision. The lessons learned are summarized in detail in another chapter of this publication (Measuring to Manage by Steve Sonka).

YieldWise Initiative Predictive Model to Quantify PHL

Authors: Hory Chikez and Dirk E. Maier, Iowa State University

The Consortium has access to all qualitative and quantitative PHL data of the YieldWise Initiative projects. This data was collected by TechnoServe, AGRA, and PYXERA Global when these entities carried out respective project work in Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria. The data for the mango value chain has been analyzed in-depth to develop a better understanding of the impact and interactions of interventions on PHL in Kenya. As a result of the analysis, Consortium researchers have developed a statistical approach to quantify the most effective interventions and developed a predictive model that can quantify PHL, as a function of combining multiple interventions along the value chain from harvest to local market, wholesaler, processor, or exporter. The aim of this research is to enable a consistent approach to identify key parameters for which PHL data should be collected. These parameters will then be utilized to develop predictive models for use as an online tool by stakeholders in various food supply chains. This modeling approach will enable the stakeholders to refine their operations and reduce PHL by evaluating various post-harvest and supply chain practices. Additionally, Consortium members will utilize the approach for PHL data collection and the predictive tool to evaluate other value chains and countries.

Measuring Climate Impact of Food Choices

Authors: Jan Broeze and Toine Timmermans, Wageningen University & Research

As collaborators of the CGIAR research program CCAFS, Wageningen University and Research scientists analyzed food choices regarding GHG emissions associated with ingredients and food waste for three typical meals at an international conference. This study analyzed menu offerings over three days as a practical demonstration in using their method to analyze how food choice impacts overall GHG emissions. They demonstrated substantial differences among menu choices with regard to GHG emissions of the associated food ingredients arising from food wasted by conference participants. The CO2 equivalents (CO2-eq.) for the highest impact dish (Rendang meat dish) per kilogram (kg) of food had approximately 11 kg of CO2-eq. of greenhouse gases associated with it, which was more than 10 times higher than for the lowest impact dish (Rendang meat replacer) at 1 kg of CO2-eq. Therefore, menu offerings, whether at an international conference, a factory canteen, a school cafeteria, or a family household, have high variability of GHG emissions because of ingredients used and the potential for food waste. Food choices can therefore significantly impact climate.

Hermetic Storage Bag Technology Standards

Authors: Cristine Ignacio and Dirk E. Maier, Iowa State University

The value of hermetic storage bag technology for preservation of grain quality has been well documented. However, there is not yet an internationally accepted engineering standard that defines material properties and performance parameters for hermetic storage bags. Currently, all commercial suppliers self-proclaim to offer hermetic storage bags. Consortium researchers are in the process of assessing and testing the engineering properties of different types of commercially available hermetic storage bag products. This testing is in an advanced stage with most engineering properties already quantified. Once complete, the assessment and associated publication of data will allow the Consortium to contribute to the establishment of an international standard for hermetic storage bag technology. This standard will codify the properties a storage bag will need to have in order to be certified as hermetic and ensure purchasers that a hermetic storage bag product meets a rigorous international engineering standard.

Digitalization of Food Supply Chains

Author: Shweta Chopra, Ohio University

Consortium scientists have evaluated several case studies on digitalization of food supply chains. These case studies demonstrate the promise and drawbacks of the current state of digital integration in food supply chains.

Modern agriculture practices have increased the yield of food production; however, surplus yields often do not reach the people who are in need, due to the lack of effective supply chains and logistics. As a result, it leads to food insecurity in certain geographical areas and FLW in others. In recent years, due to digitalization, stakeholders can connect with each other to create an effective supply chain. In agriculture supply chains, digitalization provides an opportunity to link stakeholders, such as farmers, processors, and distributors, in one platform, which provides a means to (i) effectively monitor agriculture production, (ii) make informed decisions regarding the processing, storage, and distribution of agricultural products, (iii) help with tracking and tracing the movement of food which is essential at the time of a food safety recall, and (iv) track consumption patterns in different geographical regions. However, complete digitalization of supply chains is a huge challenge. The Consortium looked at six different cases where digitalization is transforming supply chains by providing the ability to monitor and make decisions but are not completely integrated. We have included one of the short cases below and the others are available on the Consortium blog (https://www.reducePHL.org/).

Case 1: Due to increases in affordability and accessibility of cloud computing, open-source software, and other digital tools in recent years, digitalization has begun to make positive impacts on various agricultural supply chains in Africa. For example, Zenvus (https://www.zenvus.com/)

is a Nigeria-based precision agriculture Information and Communication Technology (ICT) platform that helps farmers measure and analyze soil temperature, nutrient content, moisture levels, and vegetative health via sensors, cameras, smart phones, and cloud computing to optimize fertilizer and irrigation applications. This data-driven approach helps farmers reduce their overhead costs and enhance overall farm productivity. There are significant benefits of this software for enhancing farm productivity; however, the initial setup cost and learning curve can be challenging.

Smallholder Aggregation and Processing Centers – YieldWise Approach to Scale up Postharvest Technologies to Reduce PHL in Horticultural Value Chains

Author: Jane Ambuko, University of Nairobi

Years of research in postharvest science and technology have yielded applicable technologies and innovations to address the challenge of high PHL in food supply chains. However, many of these technologies and innovations have not been adopted for various reasons, including lack of awareness, unavailability, and inadequate knowledge on how to use the technologies. To address some of these hindrances to postharvest technology adoption, smallholder aggregation and processing centers, a technology scale up approach conceptualized by the Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise Initiative, was adopted by the University of Nairobi (UON) Postharvest Research team.

This strategy/approach was introduced on a pilot-scale to two farmer groups in Kenya, namely Karurumo Smallholder Horticultural Farmers in Embu County of Kenya and Masii Horticultural Cooperative Society in Machakos County. The centers are envisioned to be a zero-loss, one-stop center where smallholder farmers aggregate high quality fruits and vegetables for fresh market. In addition, the unsold produce is processed into shelf-stable products (juices and dried products), thereby extending their shelf life and marketing period. The centers have been equipped with simple postharvest technologies including: zero energy brick cooler (ZEBC) and evaporative charcoal cooler (ECC) for precooling and temporary storage; Coolbot™ cold room for longer term cold storage; small scale wet processing line; and solar tunnel dryers for dried products.

All technologies at the centers are simple and low-cost postharvest technologies and innovations, which are products of research. Although some of the technologies have been tested and validated on-station (at UON), there has been limited commercial application in Kenya. As a result of the pilot centers, there is a positive response from diverse stakeholders who have expressed interest in the technologies. These include county governments in Kenya and private sector actors, including exporters and processors. Through additional support from The Rockefeller Foundation via a grant to Purdue University (Strengthening African Processors to Reduce Food Losses (SAP) project), the UON Postharvest Research team will conduct training for mango processors. This will be done in partnership with the Consortium, enabling the project team to expand the training to diverse private and public sector processors.


As stated by Maier (2019), the research agenda for reducing FLW requires “strong and sustained political will”, “suitable policy incentives”, and “the power of science and technology”. The research agenda of the Consortium for Innovation in Post-Harvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction is focused on closing the gap and achieve lasting, systemic change by utilizing the scale-up approach outlined by Cooley and Howard (2019): “(1) design interventions with scale in mind and clear scaling strategies; (2) assess and address obstacles to scalability; and (3) actively manage the pathway to scale.”


Bell, J., Mora, G., Hagan, E., Rubin, V., and Karpyn, A. 2013. Access to Healthy Food and Why it Matters: A Review of Research. The Food Trust. http://thefoodtrust.org/uploads/media_items/access-to-healthy-food.original.pdf

Cooley, L. and Howard, J. 2019. Scale Up Sourcebook. Purdue University. https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/scaleup/sourcebook/book/1/

Farley, S., Vuillaume, R., and Keenan. C. 2017. Innovating the Future of Food Systems. Global Knowledge Initiative. http://globalknowledgeinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/GKI-Innovating-the-Future-of-Food-Systems-Report_October-2017.pdf

Maier, D. 2019. Intervention 10 – Advance the Research Agenda. In: Hansen, C., Flanagan, K., Robertson, K., Axmann, H., Bos-Brouwers, H., Broeze, J., Kneller, C., Maier, D., McGee, C., O’Connor, C., Sonka, S., Timmermans, T., Vollebregt, M., and West, E. 2019. Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Ten Interventions to Scale Impact. World Resources Institute.


Van Nieuwkoop, M. 2019. Do the costs of the global food system outweigh its monetary value? World Bank. http://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/do-costs-global-food-system-outweigh-its-monetary-value