Global agribusiness Olam Agri works with smallholders to measure and reduce losses at and after harvest in agri-supply chains

27 June 2022

With a focus on high-growth emerging markets, Olam Agri, the food, feed and fibre global agri-business is determined to improve the sustainability of its supply chains. As a champion of Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which calls for a reduction in food losses, Olam Agri is committed to reducing harvest and postharvest losses in its direct supply chains by 50 per cent by 2030.

Wheat harvesting during the 2022 postharvest loss estimation in Hadejia, Nigeria [Photo credit: Sander Clevers] 

To do so, Olam Agri has initiated a project to measure loss and quality deterioration in its key value chains including for wheat produced by smallholder farmers in Nigeria. The company’s field teams are measuring the losses at each activity stage, from harvesting through storage to the wheat’s point of sale to Olam Agri’s facilities. The team managed by Dr. Kachalla Mala is working with smallholder wheat growers to conduct 96 pilots, and map what happens at each of the key activity stages: harvesting, drying, threshing, transporting, and storage. They also identify by whom and by what means these activities are carried out, as well as the farmers’ experience of the losses – the quantity, quality and what causes them. 

This process of step-by-step assessment allows us to understand what changes are needed to help reduce these losses.

“This process of step-by-step assessment allows us to understand what changes are needed to help reduce these losses. Next, we’ll be deploying different approaches and seeking partnerships to work with smallholders in implementing these changes towards our 2030 target,” said Sander Clevers, Olam Agri’s sustainability lead on postharvest loss and food loss and waste reduction. 

Dr Gideon Onumah (Lead of the APHLIS Business Development Unit) cited the project as an exciting example of an intervention that can benefit both smallholder farmers and the private sector. Assisting farmers to identify and take actions to reduce losses optimises their returns and household incomes, especially when they can access formal markets that demand quality produce. Private companies, such as Olam Agri, are also able to better plan their milling and pasta production operations due to greater certainty that they will receive high quality, locally-grown wheat from farmers.

Olam Agri’s loss assessment measurement work for wheat builds on its earlier work in the rice supply chain in Nigeria, which the company carried out in partnership with researchers at Wageningen University & Research. The rice loss measurement work led to a focus on improved harvesting and threshing techniques, including the provision of mechanised harvesting services by local young entrepreneurs. 

By mechanising harvesting and threshing farmers were able to get more from the harvested crop, an increase of about 16.6%.

“By mechanising harvesting and threshing farmers were able to get more from the harvested crop, an increase of about 16.6%. As a result, their incomes also increased by US$ 189 per hectare. This also helped to reduce GHG-emissions by 1,696 kg’s of CO2 equivalent per hectare,” explained Heike Axmann from Wageningen University & Research. You can find out more about the mechanised rice harvesting study, here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666790822000921

Olam Agri has plans to expand its loss measurement work to cover its other direct supply chains – cotton, sesame, rubber, chia and quinoa – across several countries in Africa, South-East Asia and South America. 

The APHLIS team enthusiastically welcomes the Olam Agri initiative and plans to continue in-depth discussions with the company, particularly around the loss measurement methodology and loss reduction interventions. 

“It will be great to see this large, carefully-measured loss dataset regularly collected and shared to help inform our understanding and targeting of loss reduction,” said Dr Tanya Stathers, Coordinator of APHLIS. 

The APHLIS science-based loss estimates for major cereal crops produced in Nigeria can be explored by value chain activity stages in the APHLIS database here

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