PURDUE University researchers will lead a newly announced, $5 million, five-year effort to help countries in sub-Saharan Africa reduce hunger and poverty fueled by food waste.
By improving the processing and marketing of key crops, those in developing countries can make better use of food that already is being produced but is simply lost through poor storage or processing technologies and management practices.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Processing & Post-Harvest Handling was announced by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Rajiv Shah on May 22 at the Chicago Council's Global Food Security Symposium. The lab is funded by Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative that is led by USAID.
"This award from Feed the Future will enable Purdue to help smallholder farmers make available not only more food in a region of the world where it is greatly needed but also more nutritious food," Purdue president Mitch Daniels said.
Nine researchers from Purdue's College of Agriculture and 11 from other universities in the U.S. and Africa will conduct research that will support and strengthen the "value chain" for crops — the process by which crops go from farm to market to fork.
The research aims to improve drying and storage of cereal grains (corn, rice, sorghum and millet) and grain legumes (cowpeas, soybeans and peanuts) in the humid tropics of Africa, specifically Kenya and Senegal, with the overall mission of establishing and strengthening public/private partnerships to promote and adopt innovations in technology to reduce post-harvest food loss.
Additionally, it seeks to increase the commercialization of crops, improve nutrition and strengthen institutional and human capacities along the value chain, with an emphasis on gender-sensitive approaches since most post-harvest activities in sub-Saharan Africa are performed by women.
Experts say food production will need to double by 2050, when the world's population is expected to increase to 9 billion people from 7 billion today.
While current efforts mainly involve increasing food production to meet the growing demand, this Feed the Future Innovation Lab focuses on reducing food losses along the value chain, said Betty Bugusu, project director and managing director of the International Food Technology Center at Purdue.
The U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization estimates that such losses comprise one-third of all food produced worldwide, with losses prevalent in developing countries.
"It is essential to recognize that food security does not end at harvest, since a significant amount of the food produced in developing countries is lost due to poor post-harvest handling techniques and limited market opportunities," Bugusu said.
The research will build on the team's record of research and development in post-harvest commodity activities, leading to improved market access for smallholder farmers. Key results from past work include the Purdue Improved Crop Storage technologies, which reduce losses from insect damage, and research to disseminate food processing technologies to rural and urban areas.
The researchers also have expertise in drying technologies to decrease grain loss from mold and in processing grain to generate market-competitive products with enhanced nutrition.
The project also aims to help develop markets for smallholder farmers, thereby providing more food while also improving their livelihoods, said James "Jess" Lowenberg-DeBoer, associate dean of Purdue's College of Agriculture and director of its International Programs in Agriculture.
Farming in sub-Saharan countries is mostly centered on smallholder farmers producing food for their families. About 90% of them own farms of about two hectares, or slightly less than five acres.
"It is seldom viewed as a business," he said of those farms. "A viable and sustainable agriculture revolution that works for farmers, businesses and the environment in developing countries must involve development of a thriving and profitable, market-driven food sector to expand market access for farmers and reduce food losses."
With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that can increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
"Feed the Future was not just the commitment of money but of a new approach," Shah explained to attendees at the Chicago Council meeting. "Instead of merely providing food aid in times of crises, we were applying a new model to turn agriculture into a business — one that especially worked for women."
Shah said instead of trying to work everywhere at once, the program decided to choose partners selectively based on their own commitments to policy reforms and willingness to invest in agriculture. Shah reported that since 2010, Feed the Future has phased out its agricultural programs in more than 30 countries to focus on just 19 where it can have the biggest impact.
Upon releasing the 2014 "Feed the Future Progress Report," Shah provided some highlights.
According to the report, the program has helped 6.7 million farmers apply new technologies that put them on a path out of extreme poverty. It also improved nutrition for 12.5 million children.
Through the initiative, 4 million hectares of land have been transformed for utilization, and $7 billion in investments have been leveraged from 160 companies — the majority from local African firms, including farmer-owned businesses.
All of these changes have resulted in critical reforms for dozens of countries that need assistance in improving their food production systems.
"We have an exceptional mission, and we do pursue it with some exceptional people, but 842 million people — the great majority of whom are children — will still go to sleep hungry tonight," Shah said.
"As this impressive report shows, there is no question that we have the tools: massive capital, cutting-edge innovations, high-impact partnerships and — perhaps most importantly — unprecedented presidential and bipartisan leadership," Shah said. "The rest is up to us — the leaders in this room and in cities around the world."