Farm by farm, truckload by truckload, shelf by shelf: As food makes its way from farm to market to table, a substantial portion of it goes bad or gets thrown away before it can be eaten. On a worldwide scale, the waste adds up to a significant amount. As much as one-third of all food produced is lost after harvest.
With nearly 800 million hungry people in the world, this level of waste is troubling. Post-harvest loss hits especially hard in the developing world, where 42 percent of fruits and vegetables spoil while a vulnerable population goes hungry. It also carries economic consequences, reducing the income of the world’s smallholder farmers by 15 percent, and rippling through market systems as losses for food processors, retailers, and consumers.
To tackle the problem of post-harvest loss in sub-Saharan Africa, The Rockefeller Foundation launched its YieldWise initiative in 2016. YieldWise aims to reduce waste throughout the food value chain—targeting cassava and tomato production in Nigeria, mangoes in Kenya, and maize in Tanzania, where, collectively, 70 percent of people make their living from agriculture. By reducing waste, the 470 million smallholder farms in the region can directly feed more people, and we can help extend economic benefits beyond farmers to traders, distributors, sellers, and consumers.
Technical Assistance and Leadership in Monitoring and Evaluation
YieldWise represents an innovative approach to agricultural development in which food that is already being grown gets to the people who need it, and smallholder farmers succeed in moving their crop from the field to markets. Key tools to accomplish this change include linking farmers to an eco-system of buyers, linking value chain actors to finance, and training them in post-harvest loss reduction techniques and technologies.
As one of many organizations involved in YieldWise, RTI serves as the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and learning partner. Our role includes analyzing and aggregating data, facilitating learning, and providing technical assistance in M&E for the partners working directly with farmers, buyers, sellers, and others in the food value chain. We support The Rockefeller Foundation and on-the-ground partners in fostering an evidence-based, adaptive management approach toward project implementation.
We also facilitate conversations about the surveys and training programs that make up the core of YieldWise. Every six weeks, we host a virtual forum where YieldWise staff members can share and learn from one another’s successes and failures. The discussion continues in our online community of practice.
Combining Research with Regional Knowledge and Experience to Collaborate with Diverse Stakeholders
Fighting post-harvest loss will require evidence-based solutions from agriculture, technology, business, and finance, as well as consumer behavior. We balance our hands-on project experience with a sophisticated research background in agricultural development, statistics, economics, M&E, and survey research.
Our familiarity with conditions in countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa makes us a natural fit for this initiative. In the project’s early stages, we realized that different cultural understandings of the concept of “loss” were affecting our partners’ ability to measure crop loss. Moreover, the differences in growing seasons and production practices further complicate comparability of loss metrics. Combining our practical knowledge of agricultural value chains with our expertise in survey methodology, we work with the YieldWise partners to test key common hypotheses while gathering actionable data, tailored to the unique value chain contexts
With such a wide-ranging blend of experience and expertise, we are in a unique position to collaborate with the diverse stakeholders in the food value chain, from individuals to government and financial institutions. Opportunities to reduce loss exist throughout the system, and we have knowledge to offer at every level.
Feeding Millions of Hungry People
YieldWise kicked off in January 2016 at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Early on, the initiative attracted buy-in from major multinational companies, as well as nonprofit and consulting partners. Major international news outlets including the New York Times, Reuters, and The Guardian have reported on its launch, and many others have covered the growing awareness of food waste in general.
In the first year of YieldWise, we have learned lessons that will positively impact the direction of the project moving into subsequent years. All three of the participating country programs are scaling up the loss-reduction strategies that the initiative has been pilot testing. To date, YieldWise has reached nearly 40,000 smallholder farmers across Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria with 16,400 MT of produce sold to buyers connected to smallholders through the initiative.
YieldWise aims to reduce post-harvest loss by 50 percent in the targeted value chains, but its effects could reach far beyond its present scope. Results achieved in Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania could lay the groundwork for similar efforts involving other crops and locations. Ultimately, we hope to help reduce the number of people worldwide who go hungry — and with the population expected to increase by 2 billion by 2050, the challenge is growing every day.