Food waste is a major problem that affects the entire planet. The United Nations estimates that approximately 14% of food produced is lost between harvest and retail. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that Africa will lose approximately USD 4 billion in food production by 2021.
The global population has reached 8 billion people on November 15, 2022. Africa currently houses roughly one-eighth of the world's population. According to the United Nations, eight countries, five of which are African, will account for more than half of the world's projected population increase up to 2050.
The combination of a rapidly growing population and a high food loss index places Africa in a precarious position in terms of food security. Already, 140 million Africans are facing acute food insecurity (World Bank), and the current food crisis affects 346 million people (FAO).
The lack of effective refrigeration at the post-harvest section of the food value chain is one of the major contributors to Africa's soaring food loss. It goes without saying that implementing large-scale cold chain solutions on the continent is likely to result in reduced food loss and contribute to improved food security and earnings for people involved in agriculture.
Food security as an African priority
The African Union has identified food security as a top priority for the continent, and it advocates for policy, funding, and multi-stakeholder interventions at various stages of the agri-food value chain. Furthermore, all African countries are working together and individually to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger. Interventions being implemented on the continent to support food security and agricultural efficiency include direct action on farms as well as support systems that move food from farm to table.
Cold chain logistics in the food value chain
Handling food at a lower temperature is part of the cold chain. It keeps perishable foods fresher for longer and allows for long-distance transportation with minimal spoilage throughout the interconnected steps of the food value chain.
There are several advantages to increasing the shelf life of food using cold chain solutions, from the farm to the retailer. Chilling produce immediately after picking, transporting it in refrigerated vehicles, storing it in cold warehouses, and using reefer containers for long-distance bulk transport all help to maintain nutritional value and minimize losses. However, for Africa to fully realize the potential, there is need accelerate expansion in areas including, infrastructure, reliable power supply and development as well as diversification of transport networks.
Improving Africa's food chain security and reducing poverty
According to FAO, by incorporating cold chain logistics into their food value chains, developing countries can save 144 million tons of food each year. This translates to increased food reserves, which can be distributed to food-insecure populations.
Furthermore, cold chains help farmers earn more money by increasing the shelf life and selling radius of farm produce. According to the International Fund for Agriculture Development, Africa has 33 million smallholder farms whose produce accounts for roughly 70% of the continent's food supply.
Additionally, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) estimates that agriculture accounts for at least 23% of the continent's GDP and employs 40% of the continent's workforce. Given the number of smallholder farmers in the sector, reducing food loss through cold chain solutions will help boost farmer incomes and contribute significantly to the reduction of food waste.
Cold chain solutions to offer visibility and efficiency
In a nutshell, as the continent works to improve food security and reduce poverty, a concerted effort is required to strengthen Africa's food systems. Cold chain solutions will aid in the reduction of losses in supply chains, which are an important component of the continent's food systems. This necessitates looking beyond refrigeration services to energy sources, increasing the number of skilled experts that can build and maintain cold chain infrastructure as well as consistent, clear regulations that govern the import and use of refrigeration equipment and related technologies for continental growth.