Africa’s agricultural postharvest losses offer opportunity for the private sector

By Godwin Atser

Postharvest losses in Africa have opened a vista of untapped opportunities for agro-processors willing to invest in the continent.

The opportunities are coming at a time when crop improvement programs by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and national partners are offering better varieties and increasing yield.

“This makes the private sector a key partner in providing solution to the losses,” said Peter Hartmann, IITA Director General during a courtesy visit by the Swedish Ambassador to Nigeria, Per Lindgärde, to IITA in Ibadan. Ambassador Lindgärde and Director-General Hartmann exchanged ideas on some of the agricultural challenges of Nigeria and Africa.

In Kenya alone, annual postharvest losses in crops like bananas are estimated at more than 50 per cent but the figure is often higher in other parts of Africa. In Nigeria, the second biggest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, losses easily exceed one third for many crops. “Even in countries that are famine-prone, post harvest losses are still a huge challenge,” Hartmann said.

“Choose any market in Africa and take a walk during the close of the day and you will see heaps of food that is waste,” he added.

Over the years, IITA in collaboration with national partners has developed technologies to tackle postharvest losses via processing of Africa's major staples including cassava, maize, bananas, and cowpea.

“But this has been done piecemeal and on test sites. There is a need for such efforts at a pan African-scale and this means getting the private sector – small and big - involved. ” Hartmann said.

He explained that apart from poor infrastructure which is the continent's Achilles' heel, Africa needed more investments in processing and packaging of agricultural products.

According to him, the current number of agricultural processing firms is low compared with the demand.

On the achievement of IITA in Africa, Hartman said the Institute had created impact through its research-for-development approach.

Using Nigeria as a case study, the director-general said IITA's contribution to the country was to join Nigerians to make the country the world's largest producer of cassava and a reference to other African nations.

“We also championed the soybean revolution in Nigeria and the country became the largest producer in Africa,” he said.

He pointed out that the Institute's biological control had saved Africa's cassava against mealybug, adding that presently IITA is assisting Thailand in solving a similar challenge that once faced Africa.

The Swedish Ambassador to Nigeria, Per Lindgärde lauded IITA's contribution to agricultural development, poverty alleviation, and wealth creation.

In his words: “I am impressed with what the institute is doing and it has a positive impact on agricultural development not only in Nigeria but also in Africa.”