COVID-19 Drives up Food Losses in Africa, says FAO

ADDIS ABABA – Food losses have increased during COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, says the UN food and agriculture organization which reveals it would become a major hurdle to the continent’s development.

Across Africa, the vast majority of food loss happens between harvest and the point of sale – very little is wasted by consumers after purchase.

The losses in sub-Saharan Africa add up to $4 billion annually, according to the UN’s estimate.

Some of the leading causes of food loss in Africa are a lack of cold chain facilities especially for perishables, unreliable and inadequate storage facilities and insufficient agro-processing skills among smallholder farming communities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a wake-up call for the need to radically transform our food systems to make them more efficient and sustainable for people and planet,” said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa.

“Tackling food loss and waste, and particularly post-harvest loss reduction, in Africa is essential to achieve that goal,”  Abebe said on the eve of International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.

COVID-19’s impact

According to FAO analysts, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused consumers in many low-income countries to purchase only staple carbohydrates and non-perishables, resulting in perishable food often being wasted in markets.

Physical distancing measures in some countries have reduced the number of customers in markets, also resulting in increased food losses and reduced incomes for traders.

Studies commissioned by FAO before the pandemic estimate that on-farm losses in sub-Saharan Africa for fruits and vegetables are up to 50 percent, the highest in the world.

For cereals and pulses, the on-farm losses are up to 18 percent, equal highest in the world with parts of Asia.

When food is lost or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce the food, including water, land, energy, labour and capital, are also wasted, the UN agency said.

The first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste will be marked on Tuesday with a call to action for African countries to bolster their efforts and encourage private sector investments to reduce food losses and waste.

To mark tomorrow’s international day, governments and decision makers are being called on to target investments and create incentives to bolster efforts to reduce food losses, according to FAO.