Moses Mwaniki tending to his fly traps

Partnering to Reduce Food Waste in Kenya

TechnoServe and the Rockefeller Foundation partnered to reduce post-harvest loss in Kenya's mango crop through the YieldWise initiative. Following a post-project evaluation, TechnoServe's YieldWise Program Manager and Rockefeller Foundation's Associate Director for Africa discussed the project's most significant findings.

Mango farmer Moses Mwaniki tends to his fly traps. Fly traps were found to be the most commonly used and effective tool in reducing post-harvest loss.

Nearly 30 percent of harvested crops go to waste in sub-Saharan Africa – with dire implications for people’s nutrition, the environment, and smallholder farmer incomes. From 2016 to 2018, TechnoServe and the Rockefeller Foundation partnered to reduce post-harvest loss in Kenya’s mango crop value chain through the YieldWise initiative. Now, a post-project evaluation shows that the initiative successfully improved farmers’ production and reduced mango losses, and also highlights ways to build on this progress in the future.

Isaiah Kirema, TechnoServe’s YieldWise Program Manager, and Betty Kibaara, Associate Director at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa Office, recently discussed the project’s most important findings – and what the development community should consider doing next to address this pressing problem.

Isaiah: What inspired the Rockefeller Foundation to invest in post-harvest loss?

Betty: Food loss and waste is a critical issue affecting today’s agriculture sector and food security, also making it a large missed opportunity for more targeted investment. Each year, 30 percent of all food produced for human consumption – 1.3 billion tons – is lost before it reaches consumers.

Of the food that does reach consumers, 40 percent is thrown away. These losses have an economic, social, and environmental cost. Food loss and waste is estimated to cost the global economy up to $940 billion per year, with both producers and consumers losing money on a daily basis.

The amount of food lost or wasted every year could feed an estimated 1.6 billion people but instead, 795 million people are going hungry worldwide. The impact on the environment is staggering, with more than 25 percent of the world’s fresh water and 20 percent of its farmland used to produce food that is never consumed. Additionally, food loss and waste generates about eight percent of global greenhouse emissions.

These devastating figures prompted the Rockefeller Foundation to invest in the YieldWise initiative with a goal to reduce post-harvest loss and in turn improve millions of lives. Through this investment, we wanted to demonstrate that loss could be reduced by integrating four important components of the value chain: markets, farmer aggregation and training, post-harvest technologies, and access to finance.

Isaiah: What did you consider to be the most striking findings from the evaluation results?

Betty: At the onset, our goal was to demonstrate that the implementation of the YieldWise four-pronged innovative model could lead to loss reduction. The evaluation has provided evidence of loss reduction, and one of the key findings is that loss reduction also leads to higher yields and supply.

However, although we had a large market sourcing from the farmers, the market was not able to absorb all the resulting produce. We now know a food loss reduction initiative will need to be more innovative in finding market outlets in order to better accommodate the increased supply. Additionally, a recent conversation with a mango exporting company revealed that there is a disconnect between the varieties preferred by the export market. The fresh market wants more of Keitt and Apple varieties and not necessarily the varieties that are currently in the market.

We are pleased to note that TechnoServe is exploring more non-traditional markets, e.g. they are partnering with Kenya’s Association of Mango Traders and the local Carrefour franchise to host a mango fair to create demand.

Another important finding is that among the many methods of providing extension services, farmers’ first preference is face-to-face meetings. While we know that this model is associated with a higher cost of delivery, it was interesting to note that farmers are willing to pay $2 to get this training, demonstrating the value they attach to these trainings.

Betty: What do you think was the most successful aspect of the program? And what would you do differently next time?

Isaiah: Farmer training was the most successful part – with 100 percent of the enrolled farmers receiving at least one post-harvest management training. The trainings catalyzed increased access to technology, with more than 82 percent of farmers adopting at least one post-harvest loss-reducing technology. This led to increased mango production and an overall loss reduction: from 24 percent at baseline to 16 percent at the end of the project phase.

The training delivery was done directly through extension staff on the ground, which is costly. I would therefore propose blending direct training with light-touch models such as using radio, SMS, demonstrations, etc. – leveraging technology, input providers, and buyers to provide this critical component for sustainability. In the current phase of this program, we are working with private sector stakeholders interested in the mango value chain to roll out training and messaging to the farmers who are their customers.

Betty: Farmers who adopted at least one harvest loss-reducing technology had better mango yields. What were the most successful technologies for farmers to adapt?

Isaiah: Fruit fry traps were the most highly adopted technology. The reasons for this high utilization rate were the immediate and visible benefits of using this technology. Farmers were happy to be able to see the fly traps filled with flies, increasing their confidence that the tool was working to eliminate pest damage from their harvest. Farmers who used fruit fly traps attest to their reducing harvest loss. Traps also decreased overall cost of production due to their lessening the need for spraying to target fruit flies.

Many farmers also adopted the use of harvesting tools, especially in coastal regions where the mango trees are taller. By using tools to retrieve their mangoes, instead of shaking the trees, less mangoes were damaged in the harvesting process, leading to a reduction in post-harvest loss.

Isaiah: What prompted the Rockefeller Foundation to change the approach from direct farmer training to focusing more on market systems?

Betty: Because the direct farmer training model is associated with higher costs, in partnership with TechnoServe, we are testing a more efficient and cost-effective service delivery system that simultaneously provides incentives to private sector partners (e.g., trainers, dealers, and buyers) to engage directly with over 25,000 farmer cohorts. We are also considering the market systems model to be a crucial component of sustaining the gains for farmers and stakeholders beyond the Rockefeller Foundation investment.

Isaiah: What do you believe are the implications of these findings for post-harvest loss and smallholder farmer productivity on a larger scale?

Betty: The farmers’ willingness to pay for the extension service presents an opportunity for the private sector to manage and pay for the trainings, since the farmers find substantial value in them. Possible trainers include input companies, agronomists, or unemployed youth who have previously received specialized training.

Because the post-harvest loss technologies led to the production of more mangoes than can be absorbed by the market, this presents us with an opportunity to explore other regional markets, innovate mango products (e.g. dried mango), or create pest-free areas (PFAs) in an effort to receive Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points certification from the United States Department of Agriculture – enabling the export of mangoes to Europe and other countries.

Through this initiative, we tested an assortment of technologies, and to echo Isaiah, found that fly traps were the most commonly used and effective tool in reducing post-harvest loss. This implies that the county governments, development partners, and private sector programs need to continue to raise awareness and advocate for increasing the adoption of technologies as common practice.

Adopting the use of harvest tools reduces post-harvest loss by better protecting the produce during retrieval.

Betty: What advice do you have for policymakers and donors looking to create successful programs in this sector?

Isaiah: My advice to policymakers and donors touches on four key areas:

  • Extension improvement: Most farmers don’t receive public extension services due to resource constraints, and this has a direct negative impact on the farming community. Instead, blending and privatizing extension services would increase access without creating an over-reliance on development partners.
  • Data tracking: Public sector development in many cases is not supported by any form of data. Policy makers need to consider how to improve data collection in the agriculture sector so interventions can be developed based on empirical evidence.
  • Post-harvest losses due to pest and diseases can be mitigated by establishing more well-thought-out and collaborative PFAs.
  • Develop trade incentives for agriculture products within counties and national governments to spur market growth on the local and regional level, as well as in exporting (especially to Europe).

Betty: What tangible difference have you seen this project make in the lives of the farmers?

Isaiah: I saw farmer incomes increase, resulting in better living standards and more autonomy. Farmers like Angelina Kamene, who before participating in the YieldWise initiative would lose about 90 percent of her yield every season due to uninformed farming practices and pests. She would work on neighbor’s farms despite having 100 mature mango trees of her own bearing fruit.

After YieldWise, she applied her newfound knowledge to her farm and has turned it into a business. She told us, “I thank YieldWise for the knowledge. I have realized that there is profit in mango farming. I no longer work on people’s farms but seek their help to harvest my own mangoes.” Currently, her crop is blossoming with flowers, and she has placed fruit fly traps to avoid pest damage.

As a result of the increased demand generated by YieldWise participant farmers, I have also witnessed new small businesses become established in the community. Mango farmer Naomi Mwasya, who grew her yields and income by 80 percent after joining the YieldWise initiative, now also sells farm supplies to her fellow farmers through her shop, Muimi Agrovet (Farmers Agrovet), and she can afford to employ two workers to tend to her farm while she attends to customers.