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The Kenyan government last December announced its “big four” development strategy to be implemented over the next five years. Food security is one of the key strategies. In the realm of food security, the reduction of post-harvest losses has been identified as a way to boost production. This is in addition to expanding the area used by commercial agriculture for staple crops, expanding irrigated agriculture and increasing the use of yield enhancing inputs.

Kenya estimates that 20% of cereals are lost even before reaching the market. That’s a high figure, particularly since it doesn’t include food waste. In sub-Saharan Africa as much as 50% of fruit and vegetables, 40% of roots and tubers and 20% of cereals, legumes and pulses are lost before they hit the market. In recent years problems with food safety have also contributed to post-harvest losses.

A food situation assessment carried out in 2017 showed maize losses could be quite substantial. The country produced 37 million bags in 2017 of which 12% is estimated to have been lost post harvest. To place these losses in context, data from the Ministry of Agriculture shows that Kenya imported 8 million bags of maize between May and December 2017. The total cost of importation and rebate to millers was USD$67 million. This year, the country has already imported about 850 000 bags of maize from Uganda in the first two months at a cost of USD$31 million to cover for production shortfall.

On-farm storage

Many of the interventions in post-harvest storage and management in Kenya have focused on on-farm storage. A number of technologies that improve grain storage at the household are available to producers. These include hermetic bags, heavy moulded plastic containers, and metal silos. The Kenyan government is betting on the private sector to reduce post-harvest losses. This alone will not be effective since the private sector may not be able to adequately fill the knowledge gap when it comes to understanding the use and importance of these technologies among farmers. In addition, farmers with scarce resources may be excluded from using the technologies developed and distributed through the private sector.

The government should also invest in generating data to inform private sector investments. Private sector investors require data on gaps, such as areas with the highest losses, causes of these losses, and farm and farmer characteristics to develop appropriate solutions. Generating this data may be out of reach for private sector investors. Additionally, private companies are unlikely to share such information with competitors if they made the investment. – The Conversation