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Post-Harvest Management for Food Security tops FAO-Agriculture Dept meeting

Jul 19, 2011, 1:26 PM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

A day-long meeting and seminar convened by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in partnership with the Department of Agriculture brainstormed on post harvest management for food security with stakeholders in the Agricultural sector.

The meeting came at time when farmers were tilling the soil at the start of another rainy season.

FAO systematic involvement in the reduction of food losses dates back to the late 1960s with Freedom from Hunger Campaign. Following the first World Food Conference in Rome in 1974, the FAO established the action programme for the prevention of food losses (PFL) in 1978, which ran through to the early 1990s.

The purpose of the programme was to assist developing countries to identify post harvest food losses at national level through direct action programme, the head of UN FAO Banjul office said on Thursday while officially opening the gathering at the Ocean Bay Hotel in Cape Point, Bakau.

He told the partners, as well as stakeholders in Agriculture that the tremendous post harvest losses sustained in the developing world due to physical, nutritional and quality deterioration of stored foods by insects, and the detrimental impact of these losses on food security, are well known.

Dr. Babagana Ahmadu, FAO Representative to The Gambia, therefore stated that the reduction of post-harvest losses is of great importance in the quest to promote food security, alleviate poverty, create income generation opportunities and foster the economic growth of African counties.

“It is especially critical for grain cereals, pulses and oilseeds which will be a focus of your deliberations at this meeting, as these sectors constitute the predominant staples in many African communities in Africa,” he noted.

Dr. Ahmadu is of the belief that post-harvest activities are an integral part of the food production system, and said the aim is to promote best practices for post-harvest handling and management along the entire food chain, focusing on broad spectrum of operations and stakeholders in traditional and modern marketing system, adding that the ultimate goal of the system is to deliver high quality, and safe food to consumers.

He added that the FAO will continue to provide any required technical support for the formulation and implementation of programme frameworks targeting the reduction of post-harvest losses in Africa.

Speaking earlier, the deputy permanent secetary at Ministry of Agriculture deputizing for the Minister, Asheme Cole, recall ed that in recent years, the cooperative relationship between the FAO and the Agriculture Department has witnessed dramatic development, the most recent being the launching of household metallic silos at Gambia Technical Training Institute.

“In developing countries, 20-90% of grains is lost every year, due to the lack of appropriate storage technology. These are known as post-harvest food losses; are either outright physical losses, or deterioration of quality, which reduces the commercial values of farm produce,” DPS Cole said.

“Losses are attributed to a combination of factors affecting the way farm produce is grown, harvested, handled, dried, stored, milled and marketed.”

In a country such as The Gambia, Cole explained,  where food production is much lower than the national demand and further exacerbated by the above stated level of post-harvest loss, much effort is needed in the form of technologies which inhibit the growth of pests, proper storage facilities, appropriate packing materials and transportation.

These, he added, will help to minimize losses and increase the shelf life of food crops opining that in order to increase production, scientists are currently trying to developed high yield potential, disease and pest resistant varieties.

This, however, may take some time, he noted, saying in such a situation and economic reasons, minimization of post-harvest losses is the only option for increased per capita food availability, thus increasing food security.

For the representative of the Director General of Department of Agriculture, Ebrima Jawara, who is the Director of Administration at the same department, he maintained that one of  the sources of food insecurity in Africa is post-harvest loss, revealing that in African countries pre and post harvest losses are higher than the global average and impact more severely on already endangered livelihoods.

He said it has been estimated that as least 10% of the continent’s crops productivity is lost on and off farm, adding this is mainly because most subsistence farming communities do not have access to appropriate technologies, which is not accessible to and adopted by African countries and their communities.

Jawara said climatic conditions also contribute to crop losses, further stating that floods, heavy rains, droughts, and other related factors cause considerable post-harvest loss.

He noted that effective post-harvest handling is critical for maintaining the quality and freshness of crops from when they are harvested to when they reach consumers, stressing that practical technologies exist to slow the deterioration of produce.

Some of them can also add value, he concluded.