Chic African Culture Africa Factbook

The where and why food loss and waste happens

The where and why food loss and waste happens at the farm, in storage, and in transit.

Hungry people and policymakers worldwide want to reduce food loss and waste; therefore, people need to know where it occurs and where interventions will be the most impactful. Food loss is the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain. Food loss refers to any food that is discarded, incinerated or otherwise disposed of along the food supply chain from harvest. However, food waste refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers.

At the farm

Important causes of on-farm losses include inadequate harvesting time, climatic conditions, practices applied at harvest and handling, and challenges in marketing produce. Food loss and waste entails poor use of resources and negative environmental impacts. 
The where and why food loss and waste happens

A growing population and rising incomes are forecast to increase demand for agricultural products, putting more pressure on natural resources. This is why reducing food loss and waste is crucial. It will improve our use of natural resources and directly contribute to lower GHG emissions per unit of food consumed. 

This is because more food reaches the consumer for a given level of resources used. Excessive water use at the farm level, any reduction of losses or waste after the farm level (transportation, processing, storage etc.) can positively affect water demand. Less food loss and waste would lead to more efficient land use and better water resource management, positively impacting climate change and livelihoods.

In storage


Harvesting cassava in Nigeria where tons food loss and waste happens
Significant losses are caused by inadequate storage and decisions made at earlier stages of the supply chain that cause products to have a shorter shelf life. Total losses are mainly because of physical, pathological, and entomological damage. Post-harvest losses cause food quality and quantity to be severely reduced, thereby affecting incomes and impacting on the urban and rural poor and hungry.

In transit

Good infrastructure and efficient trade logistics are key to preventing food loss. Processing and packaging play a role in preserving foods, and losses are often caused by inadequate facilities, technical malfunction or human error. 

Many food crops are lost before they reach consumers and suggested that improving logistics systems and management would efficiently reduce losses across the supply chain. 

They found that failure in logistics operations, including product handling, precooling, packaging, storage, transportation, and inappropriate infrastructure, are among the most common reasons for the high quantities of food losses. Transporting food in Nigeria

These estimates do not include loss of quality, nutritional value and the health burden associated with consuming contaminated food products.

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