May 31, 2021   •   News

Food Loss and Waste Workshop in Sri Lanka

On 7 May 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture Sri Lanka/National Institute of Postharvest Management along with University of Peradeniya held a virtual workshop on “Exploring the opportunities and challenges in addressing food losses and waste in Sri Lanka and their climate change impacts”. The Workshop was supported by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in support of the objectives of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.
Forty experts from academia, industry, and government agencies participated in the workshop (see Figure 1 for a breakdown of the participants). Speakers and participants discussed the progress of the on-going GRA-funded small project, “Strengthening Sri Lanka’s efforts to quantify and mitigate greenhouse gases related to postharvest losses” and explored ideas to develop a more extensive research programme to address food loss and waste issues in Sri Lanka and the broader aspects of climate change.

The Workshop found that the following issues need to be prioritised to address the food losses and waste issue in the country and the associated climate change impacts:
i. Robust data are crucial for estimating the greenhouse gases from the Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector and therefore to achieve the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Immediate action is required for improving greenhouse gas inventories for the agriculture sector. This may cover activities such as collecting activity data, developing country-specific emission factors, and building a data-sharing platform;
ii. Visualisation and traceability of the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chains are key to identifying the economic, environmental, and social hotspots and to develop ways of addressing them;
iii. Coordinated efforts are critical to enhance productivity and address climate change. Most of the current initiatives are fragmented and they focus on particular elements of the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chains rather than at the system level; and
iv. Capacity building is key. To achieve the above, Sri Lanka requires support in establishing an effective capacity building process that would address current and emerging gaps and needs.

Details of the discussions

Dr Chanjief Chandrakumar from MPI opened the Workshop, emphasising the role of the GRA in achieving food security and mitigating climate change – “bringing countries together to find ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gases”. He briefed on the continuing relationship with Sri Lanka – a GRA member since 2013, before moving into the details of the on-going GRA-funded small project, “Strengthening Sri Lanka’s efforts to quantify and mitigate greenhouse gases related to postharvest losses”. The collaborative project between the Ministry of Agriculture Sri Lanka/National Institute of Postharvest Management and University of Peradeniya project aims to quantify the postharvest losses in Sri Lankan banana supply chains and to estimate the associated greenhouse gases.

Mr Andrew Traveller, Deputy High Commissioner – New Zealand High Commission in Sri Lanka, addressed the workshop. In his speech, he highlighted the long-standing bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and New Zealand. He further emphasised that mitigating agricultural greenhouse gases is a priority for both island nations and New Zealand is committed to strengthening Sri Lanka’s efforts through providing technical expertise and implementing research and capability building programmes. Some of the current initiatives include the twining program between the University of Peradeniya and Massey University to upgrade the veterinary curriculum to global standards, dairy excellence training for dairy advisers, and dry zone smallholder dairy expansion to boost milk yield.

Prof Ajantha de Silva, Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture in Sri Lanka, highlighted the extreme effects of climate change and their impact on the sustainability of the Sri Lankan agriculture sector. He highlighted the timeliness of the work on mitigating banana postharvest losses and their greenhouse gases in Sri Lanka and acknowledged the support from the GRA and the New Zealand Government.

A poll was used to obtain the participants’ views on postharvest losses specifically, and on the issue of food loss and waste in Sri Lanka broadly. The poll revealed that the experts are aware of the severity of the issue and emphasise the importance of developing and implementing effective research programmes and policy measures.

In a breakout session, participants were split in two groups. Group 1, led by Prof Palitha Weerakkody, discussed postharvest losses and current practices to reduce them. Key messages include:

  • Some of the data gaps in the sour banana supply chain have been addressed through the on-going GRA funded small project. However, data gaps exist in supply chains for other banana varieties and other fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • The economic impacts of implementing mitigation options are unknown – an economic analysis is critical to understand this aspect. This is highly relevant for export-oriented fresh produce.
  • Existing studies, including this one, have not addressed the social aspects of the stakeholders in the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chains. Efforts are required to investigate the social aspects such as ergonomics.
  • Uptake of postharvest management practices is very slow in the country, despite a range of effective mitigation options already in existence.
  • Value addition to traditional banana supply chains has not been much explored. Market exists for banana-based foods and beverages globally, but a market analysis is necessary to understand the local context.
  • A life cycle thinking approach is critical in mitigating food losses and waste including postharvest losses – this requires addressing environmental impacts beyond climate change.
  • Waste management and alternative uses of wastes (e.g. for industrial purposes) would contribute towards establishing circular economic systems – closing nutrient, resource, and economic cycles.

Group 2, led by Dr Asela Kulatunga, discussed the approaches to estimate the greenhouse gases associated with the losses and the existing challenges. Key messages include:

  • Visibility and traceability of the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chains are essential in addressing food losses and waste. They will help in identifying the hotspots and undertaking relevant interventions. This is however not straightforward and requires additional resources to map and redesign the current supply chains.
  • Limitations in activity data and country-specific emission factors hinder the accurate estimation of greenhouse gases. Sri Lanka needs to prioritise improving their greenhouse gas inventories in order to achieve their NDCs. This may include compiling activity data, developing country-specific emission factors, using higher tier approaches for quantifying emissions, and establishing data sharing platforms;
  • Although effective interventions have been proposed in the past to address postharvest losses, they were mostly unsuccessful due to reasons such as affordability, time requirement, manpower requirement, and poor understanding/communication. Capacity building and behavioural change are crucial in this context.
  • Collaboration and coordination between different stakeholders are critical in addressing food losses and waste in Sri Lanka. This includes identifying opportunities to connect with relevant international and national initiatives/programmes, such as the #Nitrogen4NetZero initiative led by the UK and the Collaboration Initiative Food Loss and Waste led by Germany.

Finally, Dr Chandrakumar in closing remarks, summarised the key aspects discussed in the workshop and the opportunities for future collaboration.

Lessons learned and future activities needed

Food losses and waste is indeed an issue of great public concern in Sri Lanka. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects the increased awareness of this issue globally as well as nationally. Hence, more coordinated efforts are essential.
The ongoing GRA-funded small project has started to address some elements of the food losses and waste issue and the climate change impacts, by quantifying the banana postharvest losses and their associated greenhouse gases. However, wider efforts are critical to address this prominent issue.
Some of the identified key priorities include:

  • Improving greenhouse gas inventories for the agriculture sector;
  • Redesigning conventional fresh fruit and vegetable supply chains;
  • Adopting circular food system approaches to close the nutrient and resource cycles;
  • Establishing collaborations to develop effective mitigation solutions and policies; and
  • Building national capacity to address current and emerging gaps and needs.

As the next step, the researchers leading the current banana postharvest losses project and the workshop participants propose undertaking a meta-analysis/stocktake to identify the gaps related to different aspects of the Sri Lankan fresh fruit and vegetable supply chains. This could be done with the involvement of the workshop participants. Once the gaps and priorities are identified, a more extensive research and capacity building programme will be developed with several work packages led by relevant field experts.