Post-harvest losses are food losses. Each step of the way from the farm to the market there are more and more losses. In a country such as Rwanda, food security relies on producing and storing major staple crops, such as grain. However, post-harvest commodity losses are particularly high. More than 25% of the grain produced can be lost through the entire post-harvest chain before reaching the consumer. These losses occur at every stage - harvest, transport, drying, shelling, winnowing, sorting/packaging, storage, and even during transport to market and in-market storage.
Like many nations, grains represent the basis for food and job security for the Rwandan population and, consequently, more than 80% of Rwandans are involved in agriculture. Despite the national post-harvest strategic policy to reduce the losses of food grain crops from nearly 30% in 2010 to 15% in 2015, the Ministry of Agricultural and Animal Resources reports that losses are still hovering around 25%!
I led the USAID/EMIRGE Rwanda program’s Post–Harvest Handling and Storage (PHHS) investigation in March and April of 2016. The causes are numerous but the key threats are known. In Rwanda, the root causes of food loss are linked. Among the cooperatives that we worked with, the key issues were: 1) lack of adequate extension services to build farmers’ skills in PHHS; 2) lack of proper packaging and storage; 3) insufficient or absence of appropriate on-farm drying and storage facilities; and 4) poor market access leading to the need for storage. For cooperatives and other groups, another key factor is their limited access to financing that would allow them to invest in small to medium processing services.
However, post-harvest loss is a solvable problem. What if we could reduce these nearly 25% of food grain losses to an admissible 10% and turn lost grains into marketable food for Rwandans?
Attacking the root causes of post-harvest loss can contribute significantly to improve millions of Rwandan farmers’ lives. If small-scale farmers could use hermetic bags, hermetic plastic, and/or small metallic silos, they could reduce losses of up to 40% on farm crop loss.
Farmers’ cooperatives, cooperative unions, and private firms could collaboratively invest in larger storage capacities to accommodate famers’ harvests in their respective regions. Additionally, traders could build large-scale warehouses in regional locations for their businesses.
Cooperative unions could seriously play a more active role by investing in an improved storage facility in each district and lead the crop collection activities for member cooperatives. While this strategy would require interlinked support from the government and other stakeholders, it would also increase the investment in having successful cooperatives in Rwanda – a long-time priority of the Government of Rwanda. Another key strategy would entail crop collection points in different districts in order to ease the enormous Rwandan shortage of post-harvest drying and storage facilities. Modern lending products that are designed to facilitate the building of processing facilities for value addition would keep valuable funds inside Rwanda – because, currently, much of the processing occurs outside of our borders.
The USAID/EMIRGE program has taken the initiative to conduct an investigative study to determine the percentage loss and formulate recommendations to reduce the current crop loss. The findings will be shared with other stakeholders engaged in poverty reduction, ensuring food security of small households in the cooperative development movement development in Rwanda.