Post- harvest Sector Challenges and Opportunities in Ethiopia

Shimelis Admassu, Food Technologist, Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization

P.O.Box 2003, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia





Agriculture is the mainstay of Ethiopia's economy and it provides all the necessary dietary foods, raw materials for food industries and quality products for export market. The country's agricultural potential for food production is known to be immense and over 90% of its export earnings come from this sector.  Coffee, oil seeds, spices, fresh fruit and vegetables contribute the largest portion of the export earnings.

Available sources indicate that a total of 10 million tons of cereals, one million ton pulses and oil crops, 7 million tons of vegetables, 0.7 million tons of root and tuber crops, 0.25 million tons of coffee, 0.23 million tons of fruits are estimated to be produced annually ( MoA, 1999).


At the National level, agriculture is important as a vehicle for addressing food security problems. Stimulating agricultural growth will therefore be the major instrument for increasing the income of the country and households in particular with which food can be bought domestically and imported from abroad.  The largest groups of people in Ethiopia who suffer from food insecurity are the rural poor who have insufficient land and other resources to provide sufficient income or food.


Agriculture can thus contribute to overcoming the food security problem through growth that distributes its benefits as widely as possible and through food production increases by the rural poor. Agriculture in Ethiopia has not made such a contribution in the past because of the various constraints associated with it. That is lack of Integrated Post-harvest Technology.


In order to help and address the problem of small- scale agriculture and develop it into a modern production sector strengthening the post- harvest sector or systems is essential.


The average post- harvest losses of food crops such as Teff, Sorghum, Wheat and Maize are 12-9%, 14.8%, 13.6% and 10.9% respectively (Derege A. etal 1989).  According to Boxall (Boxall, 1998) a loss of 19.6% is recorded due to insects and moulds on pulses.  Losses after harvest are a major source of food loss. Farmers growing horticultural crops are facing high economic loss, because there have no means of increasing the shelf life of these crops.  Besides the country is not getting foreign exchange from horticultural crops due to the low levels of post- harvest technology, which makes the product of inferior quality and has no chance of competing in the world market.  There are no enough processing plants and the country is loosing foreign currency for importing these processed products.


The handling, processing and preservation of crop produce at the time and after harvesting may be identified as "Post- harvest management".  Improved post harvest management depends on the quality and efficiency of handling, processing and preservation techniques used.  Thus whether the gain in crop yield is marginal or significant, it could be nullified because of inappropriate or unreliable post- harvest management employed.  Moreover, proper storage also helps to ensure household and community food security until the next harvest and helps producers not to sell at low price during the glut period that often follows a harvest.


In a country where production is much lower than the national demand and supplemented with the above stated level of post- harvest loss, shows how much effort is needed in the area of generating technology that minimizes this loss.  This could be in the form of technologies, which inhibit the growth of pests, proper storage facilities, appropriate packages materials and transportation are required to minimize losses and that could increase the shelf life of the food crops.


One way of the methods to over come this problem is to increase local value-added food products through the development of rural agro- industries based on a commodity approach by strengthening the post-harvest sector at national level.  Processing of food crops to a form which has a longer shelf life and adding value to the original crop helps the farmer not only to overcome the spoilage and losses, but fetches more money due to the newly added technology.  Production of peanut butter, flour meal, dairy products, semi-processed food, is some of the areas that we can envisage in this category.


The importance of post- harvest can further be historically justified.  A document produced by the former Ministry of State Farms in 1978 points out that weevils annually destroy about 20% of crop yield. Of the annual crops produce at the time (wheat, maize, beans, barley and others, of about 80,000 to 1,000,000 metric tons, about 200,000 metric tons were wasted by insect pests.  On the other hard, the Post- harvest losses of perishable (vegetable and fruits) food crops are about 30%.  High moisture content, insect infestation and damage during handling (packaging, storage and transportation) are the main causes of crop losses. Appropriate packaging materials, proper storage facilities and transportation are required to minimize these losses. Absence of toxicity and anti- nutritional factors in the raw materials are important conditions in determining the quality and safety of processed foods.  Efficient production and utilization of food crops are needed to increase food self- sufficiency and export earnings.  Modern food processing techniques and Post- harvest technologies are the main tools to reduce food losses and maintain/ raise the quality of products.  They are the only means to develop processed, Semi- processed and new products with added value at lower cost, reduce time, energy and labor. Unlike our country these products have higher consumers’ demand because of their extended shelf life, value and Safety.  The trend of the current market situation requires strict food processing procedures to compete with major food crop- exporting countries.  Moreover, establishing food industries creates local employment opportunities, and increases foreign exchange revenue.


The major problem is that Post- harvest technology has been given less emphasis by concerned bodies and the public altogether. Consequently consumers showed little interest of consuming processed foods, and remained with their food habits as usual.  Therefore, lack of awareness has negatively affected the development of the post- harvest sector throughout the country.


The Overall evaluation of food supply for domestic and export purposes is, thus, a strong argument that an integrated Post- harvest technology research program is a critical concern in the existing Ethiopian agricultural system to ensure sustainable food security through reduction of post harvest losses, improvement of food processing and preservation methods, development of appropriate technologies and equipment, Production of value added food items and through minimizing work load, time and energy requirement.


As the current development strategy in the country is Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI), a lot is expected from the Post- harvest Sector.


Lastly, to attain high level of nutritional status, improve Post- harvest management, reduce post- harvest losses and produce value added products, effective and efficient research Programs on the Post – harvest sector need to be strengthened and promoted.




Boxall, R.A. 1998. A critical review of the methodology for assessing farm- level grain losses after harvest. Tropical Development Research Institute, G191.


Derege Ashagare, Getachew Mamecha, May 1989. Post- harvest losses assessment in Selected cereal crops


Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization (EARO), 2000.  Food Science and Post- harvest Technology Research Strategy. Nazareth, Ethiopia.


Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 1986. African Agriculture: The next 25 years. Annex 5 in put and incentive polices, FAO, Rome.


FAO. 1994. Production Year book. Rome, Italy.


Tesfaye Zegeye, November 1997. Food and Nutrition Strategy and Policy Issues, Addis Ababa Ethiopia.


MoA. 1999. Agro- ecological zones of Ethiopia. Natural Resources Management and Regulatory Department Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Ministry of Trade and Industry, 1999. Export hard currency earnings accomplishment report for fiscal years 1997 and 1998. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.