The United Nations has recently released a report that sheds light on the alarming rate of food wastage in Nigeria, making it the highest per capita in Africa. Shockingly, it revealed that every Nigerian discards at least 189 kilogrammes of food annually, which amounts to a staggering 37.9 million (37,941,470) tonnes of wasted food every year.
This is particularly ironic given that Nigeria is ranked 103rd out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index, and over 18 million people face starvation threats, according to FAO. This trend is not unique to Nigeria and is prevalent across the continent and in many other nations worldwide. In fact, one-third of all the food produced globally goes to waste or is lost, which is enough to feed the world’s hungry four times over!
Considering the need to manage the global population’s growth and other climatic changes that impact agricultural productivity, it is imperative to develop more efficient ways to conserve the food we are producing and ensure that it reaches those in need in a timely and cost-effective manner.
In developed countries, most of the food waste occurs at the consumption stage (i.e., households and restaurants). However, food waste in Nigeria stems primarily from inadequate storage, packaging, processing, and unreliable power supply. The latter not only affects food storage but also exposes the glaring inadequacies of the crude and largely insufficient facilities employed. Consequently, the food produced struggles to withstand the season of abundance, resulting in limited supply and soaring prices during the off-season.
Technology holds immense potential in mitigating food waste at various stages the food passes through, from production till it is consumed. At the production stage, advanced tools and systems can enable farmers to closely monitor their crops, making informed decisions to reduce crop losses and minimise waste. During transportation, refrigerated trucks and sensors help maintain the freshness and quality of perishable items, preventing spoilage.
In addition, technology solutions to packaging avail the farmer with a wide range of packaging/preservation options such as vacuum-sealed packaging, flash freezing controlled atmosphere storage, amongst other refrigeration technologies to ensure storage and transportation of food without waste.
The combination of the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technology has enabled the tracking of food products from their origin on the farm to their destination on store shelves. This technology facilitates inventory management and timely delivery, as well as the development of applications that can provide detailed information on the entire journey of a batch of food, including when it was harvested, processed, packaged, shipped, delivered, and purchased by consumers. Additionally, the same application can be programmed to give alerts on various aspects of the food’s journey, such as weather conditions that could affect its viability, approaching end of shelf life, transportation schedules, and any delays that could result in spoilage.
It is important to also note that food spoilage doesn’t necessarily mean food wastage. During the course of production to storage and purchase, some degree of food spoilage is expected. Although it must be reduced to the barest minimum, in situations where there is spoilage, such spoils should not be discarded as then we’d be putting valuable (although inconsumable) resources to waste. Instead, spoilt food can be recycled and upcycled. This way, the value of the food produce is not completely lost.
Anaerobic digestion technology can convert food waste into biogas which is a renewable energy source. This way, we’re both cutting food and reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Otherwise, the waste can also be processed to produce new products such as fertilizer, pickles, cattle feed, and so on.
Some examples of organisations and initiatives providing these waste-mitigating tech solutions in Nigeria include ColdHubs – which provides solar-powered cold storage facilities to farmers and retailers – Gricd Frij Box – a solar-powered, portable refrigeration device by a Nigerian startup designed for use in areas with a limited supply of electricity – Releaf – an agro-processing company that developed proprietary technology that optimises the extraction of oil from palm fruits, reducing waste and improving efficiency, to list a few.
By embracing advancements in technology and fostering a culture of responsible consumption and production, we can work towards a future where food wastage is minimised, resources are utilised efficiently, and hunger is alleviated worldwide. Only through collective action and innovation can we build a more sustainable and equitable food system for present and future generations.