Pre- and Post-Harvest Waste. A Global Challenge
Laura Baisas’ article on the impact of fertilisers on the carbon footprint in agriculture (2023) reports on a crucial research on the full life cycle of fertilisers (Nature Food, 2023). It has long been known that manure and synthetic fertilisers produce huge amounts of carbon emissions, but it is the first time they have been estimated. The study found out that ‘emissions from fertilizers could be reduced by as much as 80 percent by 2050.’ Researchers also pointed out that ‘two thirds of emissions for fertilizers occurred while they were being used’, concluding that ‘We’re incredibly inefficient in our use of fertilizers’, because we use them far more than necessary, as it is common in the traditional farming practice.
Waste and inefficiencies in input use are mirrored in post-harvest losses, another major source of concern for sustaining agriculture in developed and developing countries alike. FAO and the World Food Programme raised the alarm a few years ago, with the news that around one third of the food produced every year is wasted (WFP, 2021). While in industrialised countries this often happens ‘in the kitchen’, where prepared food is left uneaten or goes spoiled, in developing countries the waste happens immediately after harvesting. Take cassava, for instance. An essential staple food in several developing and emerging countries, cassava is full of nutrients and resistant to many climate conditions. Yet, cassava has a short post-harvest life of one to three days. From our experience in Nigeria, where an initial set-up of our equipment took place a few years ago, we realised that even when good yields are obtained, the farmers’ profit is hindered by an excess production that often cannot reach the local market to be sold on time. Neither can it be fully reused for secondary products, due to the perishable nature of cassava and lack of advanced equipment to process it quickly.
Overall, the products that are not eaten would feed two billion people, not to mention that ‘If wasted food were a country, it would be the third-largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world’ (WFP, 2021).
How can we manage to assess, reduce, and prevent that loss? We should rely on technology and innovation in all its forms. Farmer Charlie’s platform, for instance, can use its sensors to inform farmers about the conditions of their crops, soil and local weather, providing valuable data to reduce or eliminate the use of fertilisers when soil moisture, chemical values and weather condition guarantee a healthy growth. It can equally help them monitor the right times for irrigation and harvest. It can be implemented to provide market conditions and daily prices, to gradually increase farmers’ participation in the value chain.
Technology can help to improve traditional cultivation practice, contain pre- and post-harvest loss and ultimately help the environment with fewer emissions and less waste.