Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) which was started in 2017 is one of the five flagship programmes of the government of Ghana aimed at promoting food security and availability on the market, aside from providing job opportunities more especially for the teeming Ghanaian unemployed youth in agriculture and allied sectors.
As part of the programme, the ministry seeks to maximise the usage of improved seeds and fertilisers by farmers; resource Extension Officers to reach out to farmers; organise field crop demonstrations to showcase newly improved crop varieties for farmers’ adoptability; provide marketing infrastructure for farm produce and provide incentive packages to attract the youth into farming. Within a year of commencing PFJ, agriculture grew by 8.4% compared to a decade growth rate of 3.4%. For instance, maize, rice and soya yields increased by 67%, 48% and 150% respectively in 2017. The PFJ programme ties into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) one (no poverty) and two (zero hunger).
Postharvest loss (PHL) is one of the major setbacks for the agricultural sector globally – of which Ghana is no exception. Postharvest losses are any form of loss which occurs from the time of harvest till the food gets to the final consumer; and it could be qualitative (nutrient composition, acceptability and edibility) or quantitative loss (physical loss in quantity) as well as food wastage.
These losses of harvested crops may occur as a result of effects from pest and disease infections in the field; poor handling of the harvested crop; microbial contaminations, moisture and nutrient loss; mechanical damage and/or aging. Qualitative losses of food are usually caused by loss of some essential nutrients – e.g. vitamins, minerals, loss of moisture in harvested crops as well as secretion of toxins by bacteria and fungi. For instance, mycotoxin contamination as a result of fungal infection in crops can hardly be decontaminated; thereby rendering the crop unwholesome for both human and animal consumption since mycotoxins are known to be heat stable, cytotoxic and carcinogenic.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, about one-third of all the food produced globally is either wasted or lost before getting to consumers. In regions such as sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) including Ghana, where food-insecurity is highly prevalent, approximately 20% of all the grains, 44% of roots and tubers, and up to 52% of fruit and vegetables are lost between harvest and consumption.
It is however essential to note that despite the efforts being made as a country and successes made in increasing crops yields through PFJ, postharvest losses remain a great setback. According to African Postharvest Losses Information Systems (APHLIS), in 2018 Ghana lost approximately US$141,12million (GH¢77,616million) to postharvest losses in four cereals alone.
Postharvest interventions and strategies put in place to accommodate the increased yield in production are woefully inadequate, and are inaccessible to most farmers. The National Food Buffer Stocks Company asserted that it has 33,000mt capacity to store excess harvested produce, which is inadequate.
According to FAO, Ghana has 30,000, 19,000 and 60,000 metric tonnes for silo, warehouses and cold stores capacities respectively. This is considered against an estimated market demand of about 700,000 (grains) and 250,000mt for fish. This national storage capacity gap in excess of thousands of metric tonnes is a potential channel of glut from increased yields through PFJ. Without better assessment and management of postharvest losses as a country, our quest for food security, attainment of the aims of the PFJ and the SDGs will be a mirage.
There is much to be done on postharvest education for beneficiary farmers in terms of appropriate harvesting methods and timing, proper handling of harvested produce, value addition as well as food safety. These seemingly insignificant strategies and skills – apart from ensuring minimal effects of spoilage agents on produce, also have significant effect on how long these agricultural produce last on the shelf before they get to the consumers’ table.
The Radiation Technology Centre at Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and some Higher Learning Institutions such as KNUST, University of Ghana and Ho Technical University which offer Postharvest Technology or Agricultural Engineering as a programme, have developed blueprints for the postharvest technologies needed as a country.
Unfortunately, this information is kept in theses on shelves at various postharvest departments/Units while gathering dust. Gamma irradiation of agricultural produce for food safety and shelf-life extension, steam treatment for cowpea, parboiling of cassava chips and yam are a few to mention. Innovations and locally designed postharvest technologies which mmostly require available local resources or use of solar energy (such as the Dehytrays) can be enhanced. Most of these simple postharvest technologies do not require an external source of energy and can easily be set up within few days. Feasibility studies and proper investment by the stakeholders into these technologies have great potential for minimising postharvest losses in Ghana.
Postharvest loss reduction activities have a major economic impact and should increasingly become a major focus in development strategies. Better assessment of postharvest losses for Ghana’s enhanced yields as a result of the PFJ initiative would further improve our food security and attainment of the SDGs as a country. Carefully selected interventions leading to reductions in PHL are likely to be much more cost-effective than investments in additional production. Hopefully, part of the GHȼ1.213million grant received from Canada by the government of Ghana in 2019 national postharvest losses assessment will be channelled toward improving postharvest infrastructure and management.
The writer is a Postharvest Mycologist
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