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Publication | 29 August 2019

Postharvest agriculture in changing climates: its importance to African smallholder farmers

Global Food and Nutrition Security

Climate change and variability affect not only the field stages and yields of crops, but also what happens to them after harvest. There has been little discussion of the impacts of climate change on postharvest agriculture, and still less on these impacts in developing countries. Many studies have focused on potential crop yield and pre-harvest implications of different climatic projections, but have omitted an analysis of the need and ability to then protect this increasingly valuable harvest as a vital aspect of food security. Postharvest systems will be affected by changes in temperature, rainfall, humidity, extreme events and the natural and human responses to climate change and variability. This study describes typical grain postharvest systems in east and southern Africa and discusses the likely impacts of different climate change trends on postharvest activities, assets and human well-being outcomes. Adaptation opportunities for creating more climate resilient postharvest agricultural systems and associated livelihoods are identified. Many of these adaptation opportunities are already known and understood by postharvest service providers, highlighting the significant challenge of getting postharvest knowledge into use at a larger scale. A discussion is presented on the factors influencing attempts to strengthen the adaptive capacity of postharvest systems, such as its invisibility, its omission from training curricula, innovation system challenges, the policy bias towards pre-harvest agricultural spending, limited understanding of gender and diversity aspects of postharvest roles, and the dominance of maize in the food system. The study recognises the crucial role of postharvest agriculture in helping communities adapt and cope with change.