June 23, 2021

Tackling hunger amid food loss & waste: A concern in Nigeria


File photo used to illustrate the event.

By Timi Olubiyi

Undoubtedly, the demand for more food consumption is the case globally, mainly due to the increasing populationyear on year. One of the extreme challenges that Africa faces, particularly Nigeria, is that of feeding its growing population amidst other perennial issues.

Consequently, this makes hunger, undernutrition and food insecurity prevalent across the continent despite government agriculture andfood business sector supports. Without mincing words, food insecurity might worsen if the population continues to grow and a corresponding reaction to arrest the situation is not in sight.

In Nigeria, each year the country losses and wastes a substantial portion of its total food production which is never preserved despite hunger and undernutrition that exist.One of the key reasons is that food loss and food waste continue to grow without any significant intervention by government or businesses.

The magnitude of food loss and waste, FLW, is undeniably common and high in the country along the food supply chain, particularly from the North to the South of the country.The loss and waste problem has been neglected for so long  and the last few years have witnessed a consistent increase as a result of heightening insecurity, movement and transport restrictions due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,street trading, open animal grazing, decrepit infrastructure, illiteracy, inconsistent power supply, environmental pressure, lack of innovation and climate change.

Though food loss and waste are a global problem, it appears it is more prevalent in Nigeria now with the current realities. Therefore, persistent food loss and food waste amid starvation should not be overlooked. This piece is, therefore, a wake-up call. 

While I agree that both “food waste” and “food loss”  signify the food portion that is wasted and not eaten, the terms are different but often use interchangeably. Painfully, both are damaging to the economy, businesses, households, and the well-being of the populace. The fact is food loss and waste are quite different anyway in terms of origin and scope and the true difference lies in exactly where the waste occurs.

According to literature, food loss typically takes place at the harvest, storage, transportation, and sometimes at processing, and distribution stages in  the food  value chain. In Sub-Saharan  Africa, post-harvest  food losses  are estimated to be worth the $4 billion annually – or enough to feed at least 48 million people, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO,  of the United Nations. In my opinion, the large chunk of this may likely be from Nigeria, considering the population and economic size of the country in Africa.

Further findings in the report indicated that some of the leading causes of food loss are poor storage, insecurity, loss during transportation, insufficient and inefficient agro-processing skills among smallholder farming communities, and lack of innovative approach to preservation and insufficient infrastructure. 


It is not out of place to mention that with the current realities, particularly with the disruptions occasioned by COVID-19 and increasing insecurity, food waste must have increased exponentially in the last two years, indicating a major barrier to food security and development in the country, and this obviously requires attention.

On the other hand, food waste refers to  the food  that  is of  good quality and fit  for  consumption, but does not get consumed because it  is  discarded either before or after and it  is  left to spoil. Surveys of families in Lagos State, the economic capital of the country, to understand the causes of food waste elicited packaging and preservation as a key aspect of the problem.

One of the root causes of food waste is a lack of power, and some restaurants equally mentioned lack of proper packaging techniques. It was easy to conclude from the survey that food waste occurs at various stages of the supply chain due to a lack of constant power and adequate packaging.

Though funding and investing in agriculture or food sector can improve food security and promote sustainability, in my opinion, improved food sufficiency can be achieved by considering the reduction of food loss and food waste. This can be a more effective and cost-saving strategy for a developing economy like Nigeria at this time.

Because when food is lost or wasted, all the resources that are used to produce the food, including water, land, power, labour, and capital, are also wasted. So, a reduction in loss or wastage will more than likely reduce wasted resources and increase profits along the food supply chain.

To address this prevailing huge problem, businesses and government must resort to policy responses to enhance storage, cooling technologies, and packaging for the preservation of perishable foods and to lengthen food shelf lives. The good news is that there are a variety of ways to prevent food loss and waste throughout the supply chain.

For example, investment can be made in the importation of cooling and refrigerated trucks for transportation of perishable fruit and vegetables. Farm produce such as tomatoes, plantain, or even catfish can be preserved with the cooling system from the farms directly to urban businesses or consumers, thereby reducing food loss and increasing fresh produce availability in the country.

Furthermore, innovative smart food packaging and smart sensing technologies for monitoring food quality can be also be introduced for  the sustainability of high-quality standards  and improved product safety. These are lines of business opportunities for investors to explore or for the attraction of foreign direct investments, FDIs.

Sincerely, government, businesses and decision-makers need to target investments deliberately in the food supply value chain because opportunities are bound. Government also needs to create incentives to boost efforts to reduce food losses by businesses and smallholder farmers.

In conclusion, no single solution can tackle this whole issue, but having an innovative mindset can get government, businesses, researchers and the populace started. In fact, reducing food wastage  will strengthen and enhance general  food security  in the country.

Indeed, investments in training, technology, digital agriculture, innovation, and behavioral change are key to reducing food loss and waste. Therefore, innovative initiatives in the agriculture sector should be encouraged because these will create more job opportunities and also improve urban-rural migration, increase food exports, and reduce food imports. Good luck!

*Dr. Olubiyi, an entrepreneurship & business management expert, wrote via: [email protected]

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