Knowledge for a sustainable world


African Postharvest Losses Information System Plus (APHLIS+)
2015-2020, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Crop losses may occur at each of the multiple stages between harvest and consumption, including harvesting, transport, processing and storage, and are cumulatively termed postharvest losses. Both physical losses and deterioration in quality reduce the availability of nutrients in food systems of sub-Saharan Africa. Information on the scale and impact of these losses in low- and middle-income countries is currently sparse and costly to generate. Reliable figures are essential to guide targeted investments, monitor programmatic success and estimate food availability in food-insecure countries. The African Post-Harvest Losses Information System (APHLIS) project provided an online resource to estimate the weight losses of cereal grains in sub-Saharan Africa, at national and sub-national levels, for specific crops, climate factors and farm types. The current APHLIS+ project is estimating both the nutritional and financial impact of postharvest losses for an expanded range of crops, including pulses, roots and tubers, and banana and plantain. APHLIS+ is in widespread use across Africa with particular success in its application to policy in Rwanda.

Cassava Innovation Challenge – NRICassavaBag
2017-2019, Rockefeller Foundation

Postharvest Physical Deterioration (PPD) of fresh cassava after harvest has long been an incurable constraint on including smallholder producers in formal cassava value chains. In 2017, NRI and its partner the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), was selected as the best solution to this problem in a global competition which had over 2,000 entrants from researchers worldwide. The solution, a simple bag that helps manage the cassava from farm to factory, has been developed and tested in the field in Nigeria and proven to be effective at maintaining root quality for at least 8 days at minimum cost. NRICassavaBag has been demonstrated at factory level in Nigeria and is ready for commercial up-take.

Nutritional Postharvest Loss Estimation Methodology (NUTRI-P-LOSS)
2016-2019, Department for International Development, Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions (IMMANA)

The NUTRI-P-LOSS project complements the nutritional objectives of APHLIS+, by developing a methodology to estimate nutritional losses occurring following the harvest of three key crops: maize, sweet potato and cowpea. This project is contributing to the predictive tool available through the APHLIS+ online platform, with an algorithm that draws on both physical weight losses (based on literature sources) and quality degradation (based on published and experimental data). Laboratory analyses conducted in this project are simulating the effect of insect damage on stored crops, and evaluating the resultant change in levels of macronutrients and selected micronutrients at different time points.

Value Chain Analysis for Economic Development (VCA4D)
2016-2022, European Commission, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO)

Sustainable agriculture (including aquaculture) and fisheries remain key drivers of poverty eradication and sustainable development. This project underpins the EU commitment to develop nutritionally-sensitive agricultural value chains which benefit the poor, and harness opportunities offered by local and global markets to create decent jobs and add value to food products, without damaging the environment. Value chains encompass the sequence of processes from primary agricultural production, through processing, distribution and marketing, to end use. They constitute productive systems with the potential to influence human diets and nutrition on a large scale: both directly, through the supply of and demand for nutritious food items, and indirectly, through contributions to household income, national economies and gender empowerment. Around sixty individual value chains, including both plant- and animal-source foods, will be analysed through the VCA4D programme, with the aim of encouraging strategic investment and informing policy. The methodology includes specific consideration of the food and nutrition security implications of value chain development.

Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA II)
2014-2019, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties with high levels of pro-vitamin A are widely available, but further work is needed to support a consistent supply in low- to middle-income countries. Challenges in the affordability and reliability of electricity prevent long-term storage of fresh roots at low temperatures (as is done in high-income countries). This programme aims to develop appropriate and cost-effective technologies for storage of fresh roots in sub-Saharan Africa, both at medium-large scale to supply urban markets and processors and at smaller scale for individual households. The project also seeks to develop regional capacity to maintain nutritional quality and meet food safety standards in stored roots.

Ecologically Based Rodent Management for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in Africa: EcoRodMan
2018-2021, African Union

Rats and mice are arguably one of the most neglected pest problems the world over. Rodents attack and damage crops grown in the field, as well as damaging stored crops in homes, warehouses and factories. Hence, the damage they cause, and their contamination of food is problematic across the value chain. In the post-harvest sector, smallholder farmers’ grain stores and large warehouses are subject to high levels of urine and faecal contamination that can lead to many bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases transmitted to people. Rodents also selectively eat the germ of stored grain, which reduces its nutritive content. Furthermore, rodent-damaged grain is more susceptible to mycotoxin-producing fungi. On top of contamination and nutritional damage, post-harvest loss due to rodents for many African farmers is typically 5-20%, which is often enough to feed another family member for 3-6 months. The EcoRodMan project is developing and testing innovative technologies to sustainably prevent post-harvest damage and contamination of food value chains, through a number of smallholder community-based field trials which are taking place in Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Strengthening quality Management Systems
Food Safety and Quality Unit (FSQU) of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)

With 3.9 million metric tonnes of food delivered to 79 countries in 2018, the United Nations World Food Programme is the largest global humanitarian agency, delivering an increasingly mixed food basket to the most vulnerable, consisting of some high-risk commodities such as dairy and meat products. The aim of the project is to optimise the quality of food reaching the consumer. With their ever-evolving food supply chain, the best way to ensure this is through a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) based approach across procurement, planning, distribution and storage activities. The Natural Resources Institute is an approved trainer in HACCP through the UK Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). The HACCP concept is being used to build capacity across the WFP Food Safety and Quality Unit, with 258 WFP personnel trained by NRI to date, including 200 staff certified, across 50 countries. Other support is being undertaken to reduce postharvest losses of WFP stored products through training on pre-requisite programmes such as improved pest management.


PAEPARD – aflatoxin in groundnuts in Southern Africa
2014-2017, European Commission, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO)

Groundnuts are an important source of food and income for small scale farmers across the humid tropics. Contamination for soil borne pathogens such as aflatoxin is widespread. The impact on health to consumers is substantial. The cost in terms of lost exports to countries with strict limits on pathogens is very large. This programme, working with farmers’ groups in Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania, tested new postharvest methods and developed innovative practices to address the challenge.  Recommendations for drying practice have now changed in the target countries with health benefits to many thousands.

GRATITUDE - Gains from losses of root and tuber crops
2012 to 2015, European Union FP7

Cassava and yams are a basic part of people’s everyday diets around the world. Yet much of their food and economic value is lost after harvest. Techniques and products developed in the GRATITUDE project aimed to reduce losses, produce more food and increase industrial uses of the crops. Research targeted production in Thailand, Vietnam, Ghana and Nigeria, where the crops are widely grown, in order to create new business opportunities while also turning waste into value. The project had a number of successes. In Thailand, gluten-free cassava flour baking products tested in GRATITUDE have been commercialised by a company, Savaflour. Another process, which recovers starch from cassava pulp using enzymes, has been patented and licenced to a separate partner. A third company is testing whether a technique to process cassava pulp for microcrystalline cellulose, used in food production, is commercially viable. Cassava-flour production tested in Vietnam has interested Farina, a baking flour company. Scientists from the Hanoi University of Science and Technology are also advancing the project’s work on uses of cassava pulp. In Ghana, a cassava processing company is growing mushrooms from cassava peelings and plans to train local farmers in the technique so they can earn extra income growing mushrooms between cassava harvests. Finally, in Nigeria, project partner Nobex Technical Company Limited is commercialising innovative energy-saving cassava flour dryer technologies. About 60 flash-dryers have been produced or upgraded.

To address this complex challenge, this Programme, and its associated Centre for Food Loss and Waste Reduction (FLoW) brings to bear a huge range of inter-disciplinary expertise to provide new knowledge and address the drivers of FLW.

Our approach tackles FLW from multiple angles. For example, on-going and recently completed research and practice include:

  • Food safety and quality management including aflatoxin control
  • Pest and rodents and their impact on stored products
  • FLW measurement tools and approaches
  • Packaging and its impact on reducing FLW
  • Innovative storage solutions
  • Appropriate drying solutions
  • Using financial management tools, including warehouse receipt mechanisms, to mitigate the high risks of in-chain food loss
  • Processing solutions and food innovation
  • Market research and business planning
  • Application of ICT solutions to FLW problems
  • Value chain analysis from the FLW perspective
  • Assessment of nutritional impacts of FLW
  • Consideration of environmental costs of FLW

The Centre for Food Loss and Waste Reduction (FLoW) that is associated with our Programme on FLW Reduction focuses on the capacity building through sharing good practice, technical innovation and methodological information, as well as linking the work to related NRI-led initiatives such as the African Postharvest Losses Information System (APHLIS). The Programme is also tied-in to efforts to reduce postharvest losses through controlled atmosphere storage using our leading research facility in East Malling, the Produce Quality Centre (PQC). Increasingly, perishable commodities are demanded by consumers year-round and innovative storage solutions are required to address this challenge.

Through our efforts, we aim to provide FLW solutions that enhance resource use, benefit the poor and vulnerable and increase income through the value chain. Sustainable and viable solutions to FLW reduction that increase nutrition availability and reduce the environmental cost of food production and delivery are the desired outcomes of our work.

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Food loss and waste, including postharvest losses, represent both a major global challenge and an opportunity for improved resource use through value addition. This programme aims to measure food loss and waste, develop technical solutions, assess upgrading opportunities and provide guidance to researchers and practitioners. The Programme has an associated Centre for Food Loss and Waste Reduction (FLoW).

The importance of food loss and waste reduction to achieving a sustainable global future is recognised in SDG 12 ‘Responsible, Consumption and Production’, with the target, by 2030, of halving per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses (SDG target 12.3). Attaining this goal can also profoundly impact upon the achievement of SDG 2, ‘Zero Hunger’, and several other SDGs.

NRI has found over many years of work in this field of research that food loss and waste is a complex and multi-faceted challenge. Losses and waste are difficult to define, measure and tackle. Changing patterns of economic development, rural-urban migration and behavioural responses by consumers to new food concepts, impact society and economies at all levels. In less developed economies, food losses can be higher and have a greater impact than food waste, but this situation is changing with economic and market development.

Food loss and waste reduction can also present opportunities for technical and management innovation to add value and encourage better use of existing resources. However, we have found that context is important, and the outcomes of systemic change are unpredictable. Improved use of by-products can add value to a chain, but before embarking on these new uses, care is needed to ensure that no vulnerable groups are dependent upon that waste. Improving food standards can benefit some consumers at the expense of others. Dramatic increases in supply bought about by reduced losses can have unexpected price effects on producers.

Our research and practice in this area has revealed the scope and extent of the problem and developed a range of technical, practical and theoretical solutions. These have been taken up mainly in low- and middle-income countries particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. We have focused our work on rural and peri-urban agriculture, durable and perishable commodities, on pre- and post-harvest causal factors and on specific points within value chains such as production, harvesting, drying, processing, storage, marketing and consumption. We target a wide range of beneficiaries at different stages of the value chain with an emphasis on small-scale producers and SMEs. NRI emphasises the importance of addressing the under-researched impacts and potential benefits of actions related to FLW on the poor and vulnerable, particularly girls and women.

NRI contributes to influential Global Tipping Points Report

The world has reached a pivotal moment as threats from Earth system tipping points – and progress towards positive tipping points – both accelerate, according to a new report. NRI’s Dr. Uche Okpara, Senior Lecturer in Climate Change, State...

New book: Parasitic Plants in African Agriculture

Parasitic plants depend fully or partly on other plants for their nutrition, growth and development. Parasitic plants can completely manipulate their host plants. Infected hosts show arrested development while enabling the parasitic plants they...

Scholar spotlight: Umar's Inspiring Journey to NRI

Umar Muhammad is currently in the third year of his PhD programme based in the Department of Agriculture, Health and Environment at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI). He took five minutes out his day to talk to us about his inspiring life...

10 Key Factors for a Successful UN Plastic Pollution Treaty

Plastic is ubiquitous. Plastic production, consumption and subsequently waste/pollution is increasing at an alarming rate. Annual production of plastic has grown from under 2 million tonnes (Mt) in 1950 to 460 Mt in 2019 and is on track to triple...

Leveraging science to advance peace and development

As the world marks World Science Day for Peace and Development (WSDPD), we are reminded of the role that science plays not just in broadening our understanding of the world but also its influence on society as we know it. In the face of rising...

CDT Cohort 2 Retreat: A Moment for Reflection and Collaboration

After a whirlwind first year, the second cohort of the UK Food Systems Centre for Doctoral Training (UKFS-CDT) gathered for a transformative retreat at Emerson College in East Sussex from 4-6 of October 2023. Guided by facilitator, Jo Gage, the...

Advancing Food Security, Agriculture Investment and Trade in Ghana

NRI hosted Members of Parliament (MPs) from the Ghanaian Parliament’s Committee on Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs from 23-24 October. The four-member delegation was led by the committee chairperson, Hon. John Osei Frimpong accompanied by Hon....

Tip or treat? The hidden value of Halloween waste

Halloween is upon us, a night excitedly longed for by children across many countries. A night associated with traditions of carving ghoulish faces into pumpkins, which are then placed on doorsteps with their flickering candlelight inviting groups...

NRI at AGRF: Fostering dynamic multi-stakeholder processes to transform African food systems

NRI joined over 3,000 delegates from more than 70 countries for the Africa Food Systems Summit (AGRF) 2023 in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, from 4-8 September. The theme conference theme was ‘Recover, Regenerate, Act: Africa’s Solutions to Food Systems...
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