Food security is not a new concept; it's a problem that we face globally. We know that hunger and malnutrition need to be addressed. These issues have been identified as a significant problem and are central to the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Annually, farmers produce enough food to feed everyone across the world. However, our food’s journey from farm to table isn’t always straightforward. Food security is compromised early on by food loss in different parts of the agricultural system. Harvesting, handling, processing, packaging and distribution all contribute to this phenomenon. This produce often ends up in a landfill rather than being distributed to those who need it. Food loss occurs at especially high volumes in Africa, as not every farmer has the knowledge, equipment or systems to prevent it.
Agricultural practices are another area of concern. With the global focus on food security, there has been a big drive to ensure that food is available to everyone. For this reason, many farmers have adopted monocropping practices to improve food supply. Growing the same crop year after year on the same land may deliver higher yields, but it also means that communities eat less varied diets and have access to fewer nutrients. Although hunger may be partially addressed by adopting monocropping practices, malnutrition remains a problem.
COVID-19 has introduced new threats to food security since the beginning of 2020. Labour shortages complicate food production and distribution. In Africa, women produce 70% of the food available to the market. Women are also often the primary caregivers in their communities, tasked with looking after the ill at the expense of participating in the labour market. The shortage of women’s labour has a devastating impact on food loss on the African continent.
Food waste takes place much later in the farm-to-table journey than food loss does. Wastage occurs in the supermarket and the home. Large volumes of fresh produce from supermarkets end up on the landfill, as they haven’t been bought before the best-before date. Large-scale discounting on fresh produce encourages higher income consumers to buy more than they need. This means that most of that food goes to waste in people’s fridges, rather than being consumed by those who would actually benefit from it. Consumers’ purchasing behaviours have also changed in response to COVID-19. The phenomenon of fear-induced buying motivated by COVID-19 events threatens food supply and availability.
The consequences of food loss and food waste are dire. These phenomena both contribute to the increase of waste in our landfills. Lost or wasted food could have been managed to serve people better, but instead it places further pressure on the environment. The annual carbon footprint of wasted food is approximately 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. It’s clear that we need a new way of looking at this problem.
The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and Comotion are working together to develop a solution to this widespread issue. Through harnessing the power of the 4th Industrial Revolution, they are developing a digital platform to address the issues in the agricultural chain.
FANRPAN is an Africa-wide network that brings existing policy institutions with technical expertise together with food, agriculture and natural resources (FANR) stakeholders to collaborate in addressing policy bottlenecks. It promotes research to generate evidence that is used to inform and influence policy processes at national and regional levels, and provides a platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue on FANR issues to drive change.
Comotion uses technology to provide digital solutions to real-world problems. They develop innovative and responsive systems to meet the needs of their clients.
Together, FANRPAN and Comotion have come up with a “smart” digital technology platform that will enable actors along the food supply chain (e.g., producers, processors, distributors, retailers, wholesalers and consumers) to collectively reduce food waste. Called the Digital Food Bin, this app will allow users to interact with the food production cycle in a new and profound way. The food chain is simplified on the app to include three main sectors: contributors, logistics and beneficiaries. The opportunities in this chain are almost endless.
Contributors may be farmers with excess crops, or supermarkets who have more food products than they can sell before their expiry dates. Logistics are entities that move food products, whilst beneficiaries are end users of the food. For example, beneficiaries could include school and community feeding schemes, small-scale livestock farmers in need of animal feed, or bioenergy plants producing clean energy from food waste.
The contributor makes their excess food products available to the Digital Food Bin app, either for a fee or as a donation. Beneficiaries post their need for food products on the app, where excess products are matched with beneficiaries’ needs. Logistics complete the transaction by availing transport services between contributors and beneficiaries.
The Digital Food Bin opens up a unique opportunity to reduce food loss and waste, as it interacts with a number of components of the food production and distribution journey. A linear relationship from farm to table becomes a cycle that holistically improves food security by reducing loss and waste that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Not only does this address a real-world problem, but the Digital Food Bin will also allow FANRPAN to collect relevant data on the agriculture sector to inform policy processes. This data can then be used to identify gaps in policies, education and support that are needed to achieve SDG 2 on ending hunger in the world.
This project is in process and further details will be shared in due course.
For more information about FANRPAN and their efforts, you can visit them here: https://fanrpan.org