Food loss is a notoriously persistent problem that wreaks havoc across the agricultural supply chain. There are many points at which food is lost – at harvest, during packing and distribution, at the retail phase, and at the point of consumption – and all of them inflict huge damage on profits, agricultural communities, and the environment.
There are numerous factors which contribute to this problem. Lack of access to cold storage leads to tremendous losses that have reached 40% in some sectors, and researchers in California found that on some farms, over a third of crops are lost before they leave the field. This problem is exacerbated in the global south, where lack of access to technology and inadequate logistics lead to huge losses, damaging the livelihoods of poor communities.
To combat this problem, entrepreneurs, inventors, and researchers are exploring innovative ways to prevent food loss. In Nigeria, inventor Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu has created a solar-powered walk-in cold room known as the ColdHub. This off-the-grid system provides 24/7 storage and “adequately addresses the problem of post-harvest losses in fruits, vegetables and other perishable food,” according to the ColdHub website.
By offering a pay-as-you-store subscription model, ColdHub makes its product accessible to smallholders, who normally can’t even think of paying for cold storage, leading to food loss. “Cold storage is way out of reach for the smallholder farmer. Without storage, a lot is wasted,”says Jane Ambuko, Senior Lecturer and Head of Horticulture at the University of Nairobi.
Another game-changing innovation that seeks to prevent food loss comes from the Indian company Promethean Power Systems. Their Rapid Milk Chillers use thermal batteries to keep milk cold in regions where power is only available for 8 hours a day. These batteries need only 4 hours of power to fully charge for the rest of the day. This allows milk-producing regions with erratic power grids to increase the efficiency of their production.
Often, farmers will also choose not to harvest if fields have been overly polluted by pests or disease, because the cost of harvesting exceeds the market value of the crops. One invention that is working to solve this problem is the Purdue Improved Crop Storage Bag, which seals produce in an air-tight environment that kills bugs and mold.
The research that inspired the production of the bags notes that, “Reducing the postharvest losses, especially in developing countries, could be a sustainable solution to increase food availability, reduce pressure on natural resources, eliminate hunger and improve farmers’ livelihoods.”
By focusing on storage, these inventions may be able to eliminate a significant amount of food waste. “We have seen that reducing food loss in transportation and storage gave an extra 30-percent revenue to smallholder farms,” says Rafael Flor, Director of Yieldwise at The Rockefeller Foundation, quoted at farmtank.com.
With much food loss resulting from the lack of adequate logistics, the integration of the supply chain in the developing world will help eliminate waste. Along with changing consumer perception of ‘undesirable’ food, these new inventions will allow smallholders to make the most of their land, and reduce the environmental impact of food waste.
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