Food loss projects target urban communities in Malawi and Zambia

28 October 2021
Food Loss in Lusaka

Food and nutrition insecurity have increasingly become a major development issue in many parts of the world. A new research effort is aiming to increase food security by reducing food loss in Malawi and Zambia cities.

The projects will investigate the scale of food and nutrition loss and analyse its drivers and implications across the food systems chains of Mzuzu and Lusaka.

The two cities are rapidly urbanising, with most people relying on urban farming for much of their food and other livelihoods yet up to 40% of food produced is lost before it can be eaten or sold.

The project leader in Malawi, Dr Mtafu Manda of the Mzuzu University, said reducing these losses along value chains was key to improving people's diets and reducing malnutrition.

'Like in many cities of Africa, food insecurity among the urban poor is marginalised, leading to the neglect of what has been termed an "invisible crisis" of urban food and nutrition insecurity,' he said.

'Food loss affects the availability of food on the market and reduces food availability for households. When food is lost, nutrition is lost.'

Researcher examining produce at markets in Lusaka, Zambia.
A marketer (left) at the Soweto market cabbage offloading bay in Lusaka, explains his experience with food loss to the Zambia project leader Dr Gilbert Siame (right). 

During the launch of the new projects, the Australian High Commissioner to Zambia, Ms Bronte Moules, highlighted the relationship between food loss and the changing climate, especially in the lead up to COP 26.

‘We welcome these two timely research projects seeking to examine the scale of food and nutrition loss in urban agri-food chains in the rapidly growing cities of Lusaka and Mzuzu, and to identify ways to reduce food loss across the whole food chain, in order to improve food accessibility and nutrition security. How food is grown, processed, packaged, and delivered to urban markets is pivotal to the climate change conversation,’ said Ms Moules

‘Agriculture is one of the sectors that utilises a lot of resources (land, water, labour) and, unfortunately, tends to be a contributor to the Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions. 

‘As the FAO states, a third of the agricultural produce either ends up being wasted or lost across the value chain. This translates to resources and nutrition lost across the food chain. Additionally, the emissions used to produce it only adds to the growing problem of climate change.’ said Ms Moules

Rapid urbanisation is altering how food value chains function. More actors now influence how food is produced, processed, distributed, marketed, and consumed.

ACIAR Regional Manager for Eastern and Southern Africa Leah Ndungu explained that while the focus of the projects was on Malawi and Zambia, she anticipates project learnings will be applicable across other African countries. 

'Continental and international food security agendas focus mostly on food insecurity of rural populations and ways to increase smallholder production leaving out the urban poor,' said Dr Ndungu. 

Researchers in the field
ACIAR Regional Manager for Eastern & Southern Africa, Dr Leah Ndungi (left), in the field with the Zambia project leader Dr Gilbert Siame (right). 

'The partnership established between Malawi and Zambia to undertake this project is key to supporting inter-country learning across Africa,' said Dr Ndungu.

Building regional food security and establishing expert networks between ACIAR partner countries is central to all the Food Loss Research Program projects.

The Food Loss Research Program—a partnership between ACIAR and Canada's International Research Development Centre—works with partners in developing countries to address food loss through innovative, locally driven solutions.

‘We don't work alone, rather, we work in partnership with research-minded organisations like ACIAR, with who we have been collaborating for close to a decade,’ said IDRC Regional Director, Eastern and Southern Africa, Dr Kathryn Toure.

‘We applaud the gender focus within the projects, especially regarding the inclusion and participation of women, girls, and minorities within the food loss chains asking questions that get at the root cause of gender and exclusion and discrimination.’ 

Wasted food near markets in Lusaka, Zambia
Fresh mangoes thrown away at a dumpsite at Mathabwa market in Mzuzu city. 

The ongoing challenges of the COVID pandemic has also seen ACIAR take an innovative approach to the delivery of the new food loss projects.

‘In the past, we have had international organisations or Australian organisations as commissioned organisations. This is the first set of projects in the region where the commissioned organisation is national,’ said ACIAR Research Program Manager for Agribusiness Howard Hall.  

'ACIAR has been successful in building partnerships between Australia and our country partners for decades. More recently, we have invested time and effort into understanding food value chain networks within our partner countries and establishing stronger relationships between our partners countries.’ 

'These projects, and others in the Food Loss Research Program, are focusing our efforts and those of our partners on food loss, one of the high priority areas for improving food security in our partner countries.' 

The new projects are scheduled to run until June 2023. Learn more about the Food Loss Research Program via the ACIAR website.