Food: Why produce when We can’t preserve

farmer in nieria agric
farmer on his tractor plowing the field, rural wyoming

By  Labaran Yusuf -: – Jos, Plateau State

Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million (yes! Almost a billion) hungry people in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Food security is still of a great concern to the developing nations, as well as food spoilage and losses that affect not only the socio-economic depressed regions of the world; but also the developed and industrialized nations as well.

Each year, one-third of the food produced – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes gets lost or wasted without being consumed by humans. Which according to the FAO: 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels in developing countries; while in industrialized countries, more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.

Africa despite losing food yearly that can feed 300 million people have over 200 million undernourished people mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Also, Africa house three of the regions declared by the UN as having a severe risk of famine; with Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world and in the midst of a civil war is the fourth facing starvation. South Sudan, Somalia, and North-east Nigeria; also all conflict-stricken are the three African regions under the threat of famine.

Nigeria, with its blessed arable land; human resources; and huge water source is no exception to being one of the food-wasting nations in Africa and the world. Foods in Nigeria are seasonal, but they are produced in abundance during their harvest seasons. But unfortunately, food wastage due to deterioration; lack of proper handling and transportation; pests and rodents; post-harvest processing, packaging, and storage have cost the country billions in losses and technically rendered it food insecure.

When foods are not properly handled and preserved they lead to spoilage. Food products becoming either undesirable or unacceptable for human consumption and are as a result of microbiological, chemical or physical changes that manifest as alterations in appearance, taste, smell, and texture of the affected food is termed as food spoilage.
Good preservation methods as identified by the FAO will reduce postharvest losses by 50 percent and also will reduce food importation, thus save Nigeria millions of naira yearly. However, so-called ‘hand-to-mouth’ Nigerian farmers lose their produce due to the poor and inadequate preservation and storage facilities in the country.

Tackling the food wastage problem in the world needs an urgent and concerted action in order to save the present hungry and undernourished 1.2 billion people in the world on a planet that is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030. This ongoing war between humankind and certain species of insects, weeds, pathogens, nematodes, rodents and daily compete for our crops as Kuhr (1979) described it has to be won in order to save the yearly wastage of 30% for cereals; 40-50% for root crops, fruits, and vegetables; 20% for oilseeds, meat, and dairy plus 35% for fish produce; and to prevent populations from starving.

World Resources Institute (WRI) in a paper titled Reducing Food Loss and Waste outlined low-cost methods that can begin saving food immediately in both the developing and the developed world. In ways to reduce food loss both close to the farm and to the fork, WIR laid emphasis on farmers using simple, improved storage methods; redistribution of food; consumer awareness campaigns; reduce portion sizes and better food date label.

Another efficient technique in food quality control and shelf-life increase is the hurdle technology that is very important for both food security and food preservation. Hurdle technology as Leistner (2000) defined it is an intelligent combination of hurdles which secures the microbial safety and stability as well as retains the organoleptic, nutritional quality and economic viability of food products. These hurdles include temperature (high or low), water activity, preservatives (nitrite, sorbate), competitive microorganisms (lactic acid bacteria) and acidity.

The basic concept is to apply combinations of existing and new preservation techniques termed “hurdles” in order to eliminate the growth of microorganisms. Therefore, while the aim of effective food preservation is to control all forms of quality deterioration, the overriding priority is always to minimize the potential for the occurrence and growth of food spoilage and food poisoning organisms.

In conclusion, the world should cooperatively declare war on “food wastage” that amount to the major squandering of resources: including water, land, energy, labor, and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions; contributing to global warming and climate change.

The Governments of developing nations especially Nigeria should employ such techniques as the hurdle technology that will help food-secure their populations and also prevent unwarranted food lost and wastage that could feed hundreds of millions of people in starving parts of the world.

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