By Hilda Nabakooza
The Uganda economy is agrarian and over 80% of the population is engaged in agriculture for both household consumption and marketable surplus. The majority of rural population relies on subsistence agriculture as a source of livelihood. However many times efforts of the farmers go to waste due to high post-harvest losses.
In Uganda the issue of food losses is of high importance in the efforts to combat hunger, raise income and improve food security in the country. Food losses have an impact on food security for poor people, food quality and safety, economic development and the environment.
Food is mostly lost during the production-to-processing stages of the food supply chain. Food losses are influenced by crop production choices, patterns, internal infrastructure and capacity, marketing chains, channels for distribution, and consumer purchasing and food use practices. Irrespective of the level of economic development and maturity of systems in a country, food losses should be kept to a minimum.
Food losses represent a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs. Producing food that will not be consumed leads to unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions in addition to loss of economic value of the food produced.
Economically avoidable food losses have a direct and negative impact on the income of both farmers and consumers. Given that many smallholders live on the margins of food insecurity, a reduction in food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihoods. For poor consumers (food insecure or at-risk households), the priority is clearly to have access to food products that are nutritious, safe and affordable. It is important to note that food insecurity is often more a question of access (purchasing power and prices of food) than a supply problem.
Improving the efficiency of the food supply chain could help to bring down the cost of food to the consumer and thus increase access. Given the magnitude of food losses, making profitable investments in reducing losses could be one way of reducing the cost of food. But that would, of course, require that financial gains from reduced losses are not outweighed by their costs.
There should be effective communication and cooperation between farmers. Cooperation among farmers could reduce risk of overproduction by allowing surplus crops from one farm to solve a shortage of crops on another.
Stagnation of growth in the agricultural sector could be partly attributed to inadequate and ineffective delivery of extension services. This has led to low adoption of appropriate agricultural production technologies which has in turn resulted into failure to transform agricultural production from subsistence to commercial farming.