Transdisciplinary research aimed at PHL reduction in East Africa

Transdisciplinary research aimed at PHL reduction in East Africa

By Cory W. Whitney, PhD candidate at the University of Kassel, Faculty of Organic Agriculture, Witzenhausen, and scientific staff at the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Life Sciences, Kleve, both in Germany

Cory Whitney with medicinal Millettia species.

Cory Whitney with medicinal Millettia species.

This post is part of the ADM Institute’s #PreventPHL blog campaign, following up on the First International Congress on Postharvest Loss Prevention. To read more posts in the series, click here.

Three Ph.D. students from the collaborative research project GlobE-RELOAD (Reducing Losses Adding Value) were sponsored to attend the First International Congress on Postharvest Loss Prevention in Rome, Italy.

Postharvest loss (PHL) is a major contributor to regional food insecurity in East Africa, destroying over half of all the food that is grown there. Research into reducing PHL can sustainably increase available food without adverse effects on regional ecological systems and economies. With this in mind, RELOAD (031A247A-D) was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as a transdisciplinary project between many institutions across East Africa and in Germany. Overall the RELOAD covers many food commodity chains from meat and milk to grains and tubers to look for endogenous solutions along with solutions that can be introduced to enhance the postharvest performance of foods.

As a human ecologist and ethnobotanist, I was brought into the RELOAD team to assess the botanical diversity and cultural practices for endogenous solutions to PHL in home gardens of the Ugandan Southwest. My mission at the PHL congress was to present and discuss some of the findings and to utilize this gathering of experts in the field to talk about the results and implications. On day two of the congress, I presented “Local knowledge for food security in Uganda”, with early results from several months in the field.

Ugandan farmers of the region commonly sun-dry starches and pulses but generally have few postharvest practices. The main food security method is maintaining a diversity of plants for year-round harvest. Thus farmers manage their home gardens as intercropped banana plantations with many roots & tubers, herbs, and spices at various stages of maturity and with a flexible harvest-time. These traditional Ugandan food systems are important mechanisms not only for reducing PHL, but also for conservation of traditional culture.

Farmers agree that simple local technologies could help reduce PHL, particularly to save the harvest of those plants with a short harvest period and perishable yields such as the nutrient-dense mango, jackfruit, and guava. Many of these technologies already exist regionally but are being used by a rare few. Rather than introducing new crops and technologies we suggest looking to local knowledge about a plant’s economic, ecological, and socio-cultural significance. This can contribute to a neo-gastronomy, respecting indigenous and traditional food and nutrition, and encouraging farmers to maintain traditional foods and cropping systems while reducing PHL.

The PHL congress was an excellent chance to meet world leaders, companies, and research institutions that are also interested in this critical food security issue. Sharing and discussing findings from fieldwork I have the feeling that there is real support for endogenous solutions to PHL globally, back home in the U.S., and within the East African region.

The blog entries in this #PreventPHL series are by students and members of the PHL Prevention community of practice. The opinions expressed are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the ADM Institute. In addition, none of the statements should be considered an endorsement of any person, product, or technique by the ADM Institute.

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