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Consortium addresses post-harvest food loss, waste

FFAR, Rockefellar Foundation and Iowa State bring stakeholders together to tackle food loss and waste.

Food loss and waste is a global problem that negatively affects the bottom line of businesses and farmers, wastes limited resources and damages the environment. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), The Rockefeller Foundation and Iowa State University launched the Consortium for Innovation in Post-Harvest Loss & Food Waste Reduction at the 2019 Iowa International Outreach Symposium. Through this consortium, thought leaders and experts from across the globe will work in tandem with industry and nonprofit organizations to address social, economic and environmental impacts from food loss and waste.

“Feeding a growing global population demands innovation at all levels — from planting to processing to consumption. This consortium will help farmers across the globe use technology to continue using resources efficiently,” FFAR executive director Sally Rockey said. “Optimizing food production practices is critical for ensuring that farmers are profitable, food is plentiful and accessible and the environment is preserved.”

Due to the volume of food that is moved globally, food loss and food waste affect producers, manufacturers, distributors and end users. More than 40% of fruits and vegetables in developing regions spoil before they can be consumed. These goods include mangoes, avocadoes, pineapples, cocoa and bananas, many of which are exported to the U.S.

This loss has a negative impact on the bottom line of farmers, who are not compensated for their products. Consumers then don’t have access to these popular foods. Additionally, food waste forces farmers to use precious natural resources producing food that either never makes it to the supermarket or is otherwise thrown out by consumers due to quality issues, creating a significant drain on environmental resources.

In 2016, The Rockefeller Foundation launched the YieldWise Initiative aimed at reducing both food loss in developing nations like Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania and food waste in developed markets like the U.S. In sub-Saharan Africa, YieldWise provides farmers with access to segmented markets, technologies and solutions that curb preventable crop loss and facilitate training that helps them solidify buyer agreements with markets in African communities.

“To nourish -- sustainably -- nearly 10 billion people by 2050, we must implement a menu of solutions that simultaneously shift diets toward plant-based foods, close the yield gap and reduce food loss and waste,” said Rafael Flor, Rockefeller Foundation director, food. “This is paramount to meeting both the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12. Failing to reduce food loss and waste will make the challenge of achieving a sustainable food future significantly more difficult.”

Food loss and waste highlight the inefficiencies in the food system. According to the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization, nearly 1.3 billion tons of food — costing roughly $940 billion — are either lost or wasted yearly, generating about 8% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Food loss is greater at the consumption stage in higher-income countries, while more food is lost at the handling and storage stages in lower-income regions.

This consortium will work collaboratively to develop a scalable approach for adoption of the YieldWise model and provide farmers with cost-effective strategies and technologies that link their crop supply to market demand. This will allow farmers to gain more value from their crops and become more profitable while also stimulating local economic growth and improving the resiliency of rural communities.

“Our consortium approach will build academic and entrepreneurial capacity of the next generation by engaging researchers and students in multinational, multidisciplinary teams in the project identification, planning and execution phases together with professionals from the private and public sectors,” said consortium director Dirk Maier, a professor in the department of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University.

FFAR is contributing $2.78 million for this three-year project, which partner organizations from around the world are matching for a $5.56 million project budget. Participating institutions include: The Rockefeller Foundation, Iowa State University, University of Maryland, Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, Zamorano University in Honduras, University of São Paulo in Brazil, Stellenbosch University in South Africa, University of Nairobi in Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology in Ghana and Volcani Center in Israel.

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