Wheat loss in Jordan

September 30, 2019
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The study: Where in the value chain are we losing the most food? The case of wheat in Jordan provides credible evidence on the levels of food losses and wastage at each node along the entire wheat value chain in Jordan - from farm to fork. For the study, the authors define food loss and waste as wheat-based food that becomes unavailable for direct human consumption in Jordan after it is imported or during and after local production.

The results show that 34% of the total wheat supply in Jordan (both from local production and imports) is lost or wasted – costing the country about US$105 million per year, which is also associated with high levels of losses in natural resources. Postharvest losses are more critical in Jordan, where at a level of 12.95% wastage during consumption by households ranks first. Households reported that 67% of household food waste was fed to animals. This means Jordan is losing 43% and 48%, respectively, of total protein and energy for every 1US$ spent on bread that is fed to animals instead of barley. The total amounts of water and energy that were expended to produce the total wheat lost or wasted in Jordan are respectively estimated at 348 million m3 and 3.68 million GJ (which is equivalent to 115 million liters of diesel) valued at about $41 million and $70 million respectively.

Types of losses and solutions

Food losses along the wheat value chain occur during the preharvest, harvest, and postharvest operations. The latter consists of transport, storage, processing, and consumption.

Pre-harvest loss. The average farm size in Jordan is 6 ha. Every farm is losing (at pre-harvest) an average of 73.8 Kg of wheat. The total loss in the country was estimated at 287.01 tons/ year. By improving the calibration of their combines alone, farmers could reduce loss from mechanical harvesting of 172.9 kg/ha or nationally 3978.89 tons/year. This loss can easily be avoided by hiring an expert to calibrate farmers’ combine harvesters.

Storage loss. Because the temperature in Jordan drops between October and March to levels which are prohibitive of insect and mold growth, the authors assumed a very low storage loss of 0.05% per month for this season. Whereas, as the temperature starts to rise starting from April, higher and exponentially increasing monthly loss rates are expected until August. The paper estimated storage loss at about 6% per annum. However, the research team does not have full confidence in the validity of their figures as they did not have measurements for all months or there are no past data or studies that can be used to substantiate the validity of the assumptions that were made during estimation. Installation of equipment for the measurements of temperature and relative humidity in all Jordanian silos to help monitor the grain in the silos as well as for generating better and more reliable estimates of storage losses.

Transport loss. Loss during transport from ports and fields to the silos was only 0.29%. Were Jordan to upgrade all the old trucks transporting wheat, it would have prevented the loss of 508 tons of wheat every year.

The total processing loss was 13.68% (which includes bran fed to animals and milling loss). Data obtained from the sample private mill was not reliable. Therefore, the results were not included in the analysis and hence only the results from the public mills were used to estimate total national milling loss.

Losses at bakeries and patisseries were estimated at 13,565.25tons/year (1.55%). The total loss in grocery stores was estimated at 770.02tons/year out of which the majority (720.25 tons/year) was in the form of bread that was thrown into the garbage while the remaining (49.77 ton/year) is flour disposed of due to expiration.

Households, restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores were asked what they do with unconsumed or unsold bread and wheat-based products (particularly flour). Almost all of them said they give it to animals. However, due to religious and cultural values in the region, the estimates of bread used as animal feed are likely overestimated. Stacks of bread thrown inside or beside garbage dumpsters are a common scene in major cities in Jordan. Interviews with 10 municipality workers who are responsible for lifting garbage dumpsters revealed that bread constitutes between 10% and 30% of the total amount of garbage collected. Therefore, the estimates of bread used as animal feed are likely to be overestimated while that which is thrown into the garbage is underestimated.

Losses at consumers’ level. The major loss occurs at the household level where processed food (mostly bread) is either thrown away into the garbage or given away for use as animal feed. Food loss and wastage at the household level represent about 12.95% of the total wheat available in the country. Awareness should be created among society about the magnitude of wheat loss and wastage and its moral implications and resource use inefficiency. Options for smaller package sizes or bundles of 0.1 kg, 0.25 kg, 0.5 kg and 1 kg and even piece-meal sales of bread should be provided by bakeries. These will enable smaller and prudent families to buy only the quantity of bread that they are sure to consume.

Bread subsidies  

Jordan is generally a net food importer, despite self-sufficiency in a few food items such as olives, olive oil, tomatoes, goat meat, fresh milk, and eggs. The biggest gap between production and consumption is cereals, as Jordan produces only 3% and 3.6% of its total food needs in wheat and barley respectively. Twenty years of subsidy and ease of transport around the desert have encouraged the livestock industry to become dependent on barley, which accounted for 63% of feed costs for producers. Barley remains cheaper than any other alternative cereal such as maize. However, a substantial amount of bread is also being used as animal feed.

Historically, bread subsides in Jordan were implemented through the subsidization of flour. A large variation in flour prices has reportedly fomented a black market and illegal practices including tax evasion. The Government of Jordan has recently reviewed the subsidy on bread, raising hopes that it will reduce consumption losses. In 2017 Jordan allocated approximately $170 million to a bread subsidy program. As of January 2018, the Jordanian government moved away from subsidizing the flour into cash transfers to targeted families and increased the price of subsidized bread. Therefore, large bakeries welcomed the Jordanian government’s measure to lift flour subsidies because the reform is expected to help put an end to subsidized wheat flour leakages that distort the market. When the new policy is fully implemented, bakeries that traded/resold subsidized wheat flour are expected to drop out of the market. A voucher system that enables the subsidy in the country to target only poorer families and motivate them to be careful in their use of bread would be more effective in both reducing bread waste and also improving the nutritional diversity of the poor.

These results call for a concerted effort by individuals, civic societies, NGOs and the government towards awareness-raising and measures targeting reduction of wastage, especially during consumption. The findings of this study are expected to be useful to policymakers, donors, researchers and community-based organizations that work in the areas of food security and nutrition. The results are also expected to stir useful discussions nationally, regionally and globally, in terms of raising awareness as well as a priority setting for research investment. Increased investment in research is needed in order to reduce losses at each node of wheat value chains, particularly losses occurring during consumption at the household level.