By Jeremiah Rogito, Program Officer, FOLU, AGRA

The control of food loss and waste is critical in addressing many of Africa’s food shortage issues, which have left over 200 million people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. This is according to food system experts, who met in a workshop last month to validate a study on the contextual issues surrounding food loss and waste (FLW) in Kenya. The workshop was organized by the World Resource Institute (WRI) through the Food and Land Use (FOLU) coalition. 

The participants recognized that at least 37% of the food produced in sub-Saharan Africa is either lost or wasted, making FLW an integral agenda in the ongoing conversation on food systems transformation. It was agreed that FLW impacts food security and nutrition, the earnings of food producers and traders, and the sustainability of food systems through the wastage of scarce natural resources and farming inputs.

Yet despite this relevance, the participants noted the inadequacy of FLW data and knowledge (critical points of loss, magnitude, and underlying causes and drivers) in driving policy development, decision-making processes, and priority actions towards tackling the problem. They said that available estimates are based on an FAO study carried out in 2011, whose outcome does not fully correspond to newer definitions, metrics, measurement protocols and standards. 

“With the various challenges around production, including climate change, high cost of inputs, degraded soils, and failed rains, among others, we cannot afford to lose or waste any food. It is imperative that models that significantly reduce food loss and waste in Kenya be piloted and upscaled,” said John Macharia, AGRA’s Kenya Country Manager. 

A picture of fruit and vegetable waste at a local market in Kenya

For rapid action, Dr Robert Mbeche, who led the study under validation, reiterated the need to develop FLW as a critical food system indicator, eliminating the existing bottlenecks to understanding the causes, extent, and priorities for reducing FLW. 

“Despite being a priority issue under the Sustainable Development Agenda of 2030, FLW has not received much attention compared to other food system indicators such as food availability and food safety,” he said.

He added that while there is emerging but growing literature on FLW in Kenya, most studies do not employ standard methodologies that increase the accuracy and comparability of the results. 

“These studies tend to analyse FLW at specific stages of the value chain – which makes it difficult to determine the critical points of loss. Furthermore, few studies have been undertaken at retail or consumption nodes making estimation of food waste difficult. The assessments of physical losses are more common compared to quality or nutritional losses,” he said. 

On the other hand, Dr. Mbeche was pleased to note that some studies have documented important innovations that could potentially minimize FLW, in addition, to attempts to assess the cost effectiveness and impacts of various FLW innovations.

A section of participants in a group photo during the FLW workshop at the Movenpick Hotel, in Kenya’s Capital, Nairobi.

Other speakers emphasized the need to develop consistent and targeted measures to address data gaps on FLW. The WRI and FOLU partners are working on such a protocol for adequate FLW measurement and response. A draft of this protocol was presented at the workshop, as evidence of FOLU’s prioritizaton of FLW among its four critical transitions in Kenya, which also include: Healthy diets; Productive and Regenerative Agriculture, and Protecting and Restoring Nature for a Sustainable Food and Land Use System. 

Meanwhile, Dr Susan Chomba, WRI’s Director of Vital Landscapes, highlighted the importance of partnerships in addressing food loss and waste. She said: “to achieve food system transformation, we cannot do it alone, there is need for us to collaborate and work together to achieve this, hence the need for the Food and Land Use Coalition.”