The curse of pre and post-harvest losses in African Agriculture

The curse of pre and post-harvest losses in African Agriculture

One of the biggest headaches in African agriculture is dealing with excess produce. African countries are said to be incurring US$48 billion in post-harvest losses.  Imagine creating a $48 billion industry!

14 Sept 1

Contextual analysis of losses related to tomato production and marketing

In all African countries, every agriculture commodity has its potential yield capacity and price on the market. For instance in Zimbabwe, tomato production has a yield potential of more than 100 boxes per acre.  When the market offers $7 per box, a farmer can easily earn $700 per acre. However, holding all other factors constant (internal & external), from planting to maturity, potential yield may be reduced by (2%) 2 boxes due to lack of adequate knowledge and skills. Cases of different yields for different farmers are common because even though they may operate under same conditions, there are differences in management knowledge and skills.

Harvesting, Packaging and Storage Losses

Most tomato harvesting technologies are still very conventional and poorly managed. The majority of farmers harvest through hand picking with the fruits placed in wooden/plastic trays, tins, baskets, card board boxes and scotch carts, among other locally available containers. Once harvested the produce is stored either by the road side or in a hut waiting to be taken to the market by bus or trucks whose arrival times are unpredictable. This whole process can result in 3% (3 boxes) of potential yield loss.

Transporting produce to the market

Loading of tomatoes is done manually and it is common for containers to fall down during loading and transportation. Packaging material such as wooden boxes are made of rough surfaces and protruding nails as well as fastening metals which deteriorate with over usage. The same packing material is then transported through rough dust roads from production areas to tarred roads that lead to urban markets. At the market, boxes are off- loaded manually with lots of shaking and bumping onto each other as the boxes are stacked. It is not surprising that during the whole process 4% (4 boxes) of tomatoes are lost.

Marketing Related Losses

Much of the infrastructure in agriculture markets is not designed for accommodating different types of commodities and volumes. Market spaces and stalls expose commodities to sun, dust, rains, theft etc. The unfavorable market infrastructure for tomatoes can contribute up to 5% (5 boxes) loss.

Demand and Supply Mismatch-induced losses

Tomato producers from all corners of the country supply a given market at a given time.  Due to lack of coordination, it is very common for supply to surpass demand resulting suppression of prices. Where a farmer was anticipating the peak price of $7 per box, surplus on the market can knock the price down to $3.50 per box (50% of the potential price).  From production to marketing, the farmer would have lost 14 boxes.  The potential income of 86 boxes left at peak price of $7 per box is $602. However at $3.50 the farmer now gets $301 losing out 43 boxes worth of potential value due to suppressed prices.

Below is a summary of factors that contribute to losses:

Description Quantity % age Unit Price Value %age loss
Potential Yield 100 100 7 700 0
Planting to Production  Losses 2 2 7 14 2
Harvesting, Packaging & Storage Losses 3 3 7 21 3
Transporting related losses 4 4 7 28 4
Marketing Related Losses 5 5 7 35 5
Supply & Demand Mismatch Losses 43 43 7 301 23
TOTAL LOSS 57 57 7 399 57
Farmers’ Income 86 86 5 301 57

The table above explanation shows that the greatest loss in tomato production is due to mismatch between demand and supply and this is expressed as lost value resulting from suppressed prices.  Farmers can simply address this enormous loss through coordinating their supplies to the market.

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