Unpacking Post-Harvest Losses: A Meta-Analysis

This study (a joint undertaking by a number of researchers and published in World Development), conducts a meta-analysis which aims to expose the nature and magnitude of post-harvest losses in Sub-Saharan Africa, and to identify gaps in their assessment and mitigation. Post-harvest losses (PHL) are a crucial factor that affects food security and nutrition across the region. The PHL affect quality, availability and prices of foodstuffs; progress in the postharvest sector would not only improve food availability and nutrition but would also have positive impacts on the environment due to the reduction in resources needed. Unfortunately, the authors note that estimates of PHL in Sub-Saharan Africa are inaccurate because they are derived from inadequate datasets so the magnitude and source of the loss is still unknown, especially for commodities other than cereal grains.

The meta-analysis consisted of a literature search aimed to build a database of studies for Ghana, Benin, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. The search focused upon commodities with great importance to the household economy and food security such as pulses, fruits, roots and tubers, vegetables, animal products, and oil. A screening of relevant documents was performed which classified the relevance and suitability of articles found in the literature search.  Out of 838 documents gathered only 139 estimated the quantity of PHL, 147 reported various types of technologies for PHL mitigation and only 22 disclosed cost-benefit analysis of technology implementation. The authors noted that only three explored gender issues.

The authors conclude that PHL evidence in Sub Saharan Africa faces an array of issues: i) a big portion of the data used in these studies are of poor quality, not robust and unreliable; ii) the majority of PHL estimates relate to storage of primarily maize, iii) there are ambiguities across the methodologies for PHL assessment which can make estimates of PHL magnitude inaccurate; iv) PHL studies did not explore value chains and were mainly focused on technical efficacy of technologies like storage improvement which misses important factors for technology implementation such as economic feasibility, social acceptability, wider dissemination and uptake, etc.; v) not all aspects of PHL have been fully investigated; despite knowledge of PHL reduction techniques that act on certain points in the value chain, an adaptive and holistic research that takes into account the technical, social-cultural, economic, and policy contexts of technologies is greatly needed.

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