Helping smallholder farmers support their families

Minimizing Post-Harvest Loss

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods, and food insecurity is widespread. Yet in the region, 50% of fruits and vegetables, 40% of roots and tubers, and 20% of cereals are lost before they even make it to market. This post-harvest loss—crops lost to waste, spoilage, and other factors between harvest and sale—is a persistent challenge across the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, reducing post-harvest loss could increase income for 470 million smallholder farms, representing a big step forward in global efforts to end hunger and poverty.

Cost-effective technologies and best practices like hermetic storage, improved post-harvest processing techniques, and more efficient transportation, already exist and could help address post-harvest loss if utilized more widely. However, increasing the use of nearly all of these solutions requires behavior change at the individual level, which is often the last-mile challenge standing in the way of significant loss reduction.

In 2016, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the ambitious YieldWise Initiative to demonstrate how the world can cut food waste (and loss) in half by 2030. As the work began to produce initial data from the field, we applied a behavioral lens to better understand why farmers don’t always use beneficial resources. Knowing this early on in the work would help Rockefeller course correct where needed, and strengthen its ultimate impact. We then used our insights to design innovative solutions to overcome the behavioral challenges. Our work examined the YieldWise Initiative’s activities in Tanzania, which specifically target loss reduction among smallholder maize farmers.

Our work with the Rockefeller Foundation is outlined in a report that details our behavioral findings and the potential solutions that can be applied to help farmers retain more of their harvest and better support their families each year. Though the specific findings outlined in this report center on maize farmers in Tanzania, our work affirms the value of addressing development challenges with behavioral science and points to the potential that well-designed interventions can have in agricultural development around the world.

Read the full report: Reducing Post-Harvest Loss: A Behavioral Approach.

Interested in learning more about this work applying behavioral science to a crucial social problem? Reach out to us at or tweet at @ideas42 to join the conversation.