Photo: R. Hodges


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Post-harvest loss reduction raises food availability without increasing the use of land, water and agricultural inputs. This article refers to the case of grain to show the hurdles that farmers have to clear in taking measures to reduce losses and suggests ways that post-harvest practitioners can target mitigating actions in sub-Saharan Africa.

Cereal grains are the main food staples of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Losses after harvest of both quantity (weight losses) and quality deprive farmers of the full benefits of their labours. Weight losses typically range from 5 per cent to 40 per cent of production (see Figure), averaging about 13.5 per cent. It has been suggested that for eastern and southern Africa the value of this weight loss amounts to about 1.6 billion US dollars (USD) per annum, or possibly about four billion USD for all of sub-Saharan Africa. This exceeds the value of total food aid received by SSA in the decade 1998–2008, equates to the value of cereal import to SSA in the period 2000–2007, and is equivalent to the annual calorific requirement of at least 48 million people (World Bank, 2011).

Post-harvest grain losses result from both the scattering of grain due to poor post-harvest handling (harvesting, threshing, transport) and from biodeterioration brought about by pest organisms that include insects, moulds and fungi, rodents and, sometimes, birds.

The effects of biodeterioration are made worse by mechanical damage during handling as broken grain is much more susceptible to other types of quality decline such as pest attack.

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