By Russ Webster, AIARD Vice-President
Founder and President of Grow to Market
Like many holiday celebrations around the world, the American tradition of Thanksgiving centers around family, friends, and — of course — food. We gather, we feast, we share stories, we laugh, and we give thanks for our many blessings. To prepare for Thanksgiving we shop, cook, serve, eat, and sometimes eat again. This is the process that most of us typically see – shop, cook, eat, shop, cook, eat, repeat. It makes me hungry just thinking about it!
What most of us don’t see are all of the steps connecting farm to store – the processors, packers, cold-storage operators, transporters, warehouse operators, packaging facilities, grocery store managers, and stock clerks. Imagine for a minute a can of cream-of-mushroom soup (I grew up in the Midwest, and this was a CRUCIAL ingredient for green-bean casserole…). How many businesses and workers are involved in that can of soup? Many!
In the U.S., according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food and agriculture accounted for 11 percent—about 21.6 million full and part-time jobs—of total employment in 2017. Of these 21.6 million jobs, about 2.6 were on-farm, 15.7 were accounted for in food services—food and beverage stores, restaurants, and bars, etc.—and the remaining 3.3 were in other food and agriculture related industries. In addition to jobs, the U.S. food and agriculture sectors are characterized by high levels of mechanization at all stages of value addition and public support for funding needed infrastructure including roads, energy, and communications.
Levels of employment in developing countries are, by contrast, much higher percentagewise. In Africa, an estimated 60 percent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, and countless small, micro and informal businesses are working to move food from the farm gate to local, urban, and in some cases export markets. Their distinct disadvantage, however, is not having access to capital equipment, finance, and infrastructure needed to efficiently and safely build farm-to-table linkages. This contributes to tremendous levels of food loss before getting to consumers, which in turn becomes a major contributor to hunger and malnutrition. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), about 1/3 of food produced globally is either lost or wasted. In industrialized countries, waste occurs primarily at the retail or post-consumer levels, whereas in developing countries most occurs post-harvest and in processing, before reaching consumers.
There are a lot of issues to be addressed in overcoming world hunger and malnutrition. One that deserves more of our attention is just what’s being discussed here: capturing food that is already produced (meaning nutrition too) and delivering it safely to consumers. This of course will require broad stakeholder engagement, from both the public and private sectors. It also means helping entrepreneurs and business owners, primarily small- and medium-sized, to adopt better food safety and food processing practices into their business models, as well as developing markets and consumer demand for their higher-quality, higher-cost food products. Good food can be good business.
So, this Thanksgiving, think about all of those folks who played a part in setting your table, starting with the farmer, right up to the stock clerk. Think too about their peers in developing countries, and the similar-yet-different challenges they face, and how important their role is in feeding a hungry world. And, if you do eat green-bean casserole, thumbs up!
The mission of the AIARD BLOG
The mission of the AIARD Blog is to highlight and share thoughts, ideas and work from people who have devoted their careers to global agricultural development and hunger alleviation.