The U.N. FAO Partners with Private Sector to Improve Food Packaging Sustainability in Sub-Saharan Africa

Industry standard food packaging systems play a crucial role in preventing food loss during the storage and distribution process, as well as during the retail and consumption phases of the food supply chain. Efficient food packaging systems are also key in enabling the local industries of developing countries to compete with foreign imports – ultimately leading to an improved quality of life for farmers and rural communities.

Industria Macchine Automatiche (IMA S.p.a.), Italian manufacturers of food packaging machines, recently signed a partnership agreement with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) through its Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction (SAVE FOOD) to develop and implement a project on sustainable packaging systems.

Targeting Small and Medium Agricultural Enterprises (SMAEs) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the project will assess their food packaging needs and capabilities as well as test food packaging solutions in the region. The outcomes of these assessments will lead to a regional project proposal to further develop the food packaging sector. The project will cover three years at a cost of US $450,000, which has been provided by IMA S.p.a., FAO and the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) Export Packaging Unit, will manage the project and carry out needs assessments for selected countries. SMAEs can play a transformative role in lifting vulnerable populations out of poverty while driving economic growth. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the small and medium enterprises sector is vital to Africa’s continuing growth, contributing more than 45 percent to employment and 33 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the continent.

However, many local companies face huge hurdles in the packaging arena, where they fail to compete favorably with foreign imports that often have a packaging advantage. Furthermore, as urban centers continue to expand across Africa, changing the demographic landscape, the demand for packaged food rises, driven by a burgeoning middle-class.

Currently, SMAEs face a number of issues in the agro-food sector including a lack of investment in the packaging sector as a whole; lower availability of quality material; equipment and packaging services; high import costs; and an inadequately trained workforce.

Marcos Vaena, Chief of Enterprise Competitiveness at the ITC, highlighted the importance of providing specialized technical knowledge in the packaging sector to SMAEs in Africa. ”The future of SMAEs in Africa will depend on the ability of companies to adapt to increasingly stricter requirements and to meet higher expectations by the market – including from the emerging consumer middle-class in the region. This includes being able to leverage appropriate technology to reduce losses and achieve scale in production, while maintaining high quality standards. The ITC is pleased to work alongside FAO and IMA to further enhance the technical capacity of African SMAEs in the area of packaging solutions, an area of great importance to enhance value addition and improve SMAEs competitiveness”.

SAVE FOOD’s partnership with IMA S.p.a. and the ITC is in line with FAO’s strategic priorities, including “enabling inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems.” The Initiative continues to partner with private sector organizations like IMA S.p.a in order to develop the inclusive value chains required to empower SMAEs and enable them to thrive in the local and international market.

Robert van Otterdijk, Coordinator of the Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, called the project “an important step in assessing the capacities of the food packaging sector and developing long-term solutions.” He added “the Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction hopes that this project will be a catalyst to spark more research and development into packaging solutions for Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the first project of its kind for FAO and we hope that this will provide a partnership model for delivering support to the packaging sector in Africa and elsewhere.’’

SAVE FOOD’s landmark publication “Global food losses and food waste – Extent, Causes and Prevention” determined that one-third of the food produced globally is lost each year. It also estimated that the proportion of food lost or wasted in Sub-Saharan Africa, from production to distribution, is about 40 percent for root and tuber crops, roughly 50 percent for fruits and vegetables, 25 percent for meat, 30 percent for fish and 25 percent for dairy products. “Missing Food” a World Bank/FAO report which investigated post-harvest losses in Sub-Saharan Africa, estimated the value of these losses at US $4B annually.