How can we bring together food waste and small ruminants to transform African food systems?

How can we bring together food waste and small ruminants to transform African food systems?

FSNet-Africa fellow Dr Antoinette Anim-Jnr highlights the potential contribution of using food waste as feed for small ruminants to transform Africa’s food systems.

A third of food produced every year around the world for human consumption is lost or wasted and about 10-20% of horticultural waste is disposed of in landfills, leading to environmental pollution. There have been calls to explore how waste from horticultural produce can be used in preparing feed for livestock to help reduce environmental hazards (such as methane, a powerful greenhouse gas released when food waste rots) and lessen food-feed competition. Food–feed competition generally refers to the tensions and trade-offs between two alternative uses for edible crops: direct consumption by humans versus feeding livestock. The use of waste to feed livestock also  helps to address the high prices of conventional livestock feed that often results in the increased cost of livestock production for farmers and, in turn, increased prices for consumers. The use of food waste as livestock feed therefore offers practical alternative feeding systems based on locally available products which, in turn, can help transform African food systems to be more sustainable.

During the month of September, FSNet-Africa hosted a live podcast as part of the #InCoversationWithFSNetAfrica series on Twitter Spaces. FSNet-Africa fellow and animal nutritionist researcher, Dr Antoinette Anim-Jnr, from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), shared her thoughts on how we can bring together food waste and small ruminants to transform African food systems. Her FSNet-Africa project promotes a novel and cost-effective way to improve small ruminant nutrition.

Antoinette, who holds a PhD in Animal Science, said that her motivation to work with animals began with her love for meat. She is a huge meat lover. Below are some of the highlights from the interview with Antoinette.

Can you tell us about your FSNet-Africa project?

The project is titled “Valorising fruit by-products for sustainable ruminant production in Ghana” and explores the use of food waste as a potential source of feed for small ruminants. The aim of the project is to improve animal performance and also quality. In Ghana, there is a challenge of feed scarcity, especially during the lean season. There is, therefore, always need to find alternative feed sources for the animals. Fruit waste is considered an alternative source since they contain soluble nutrients (such as vitamins B and C) and phytochemicals (growth promoters) which benefit animal production, including the quality of meat.

What is fruit waste and what are small ruminants?

When we process fruits into juices and other value-added products like jams, a lot of solid organic waste is generated. For example, the peels that are not used during the processing are disposed of and often end up in landfills, polluting the environment. The solid waste is what is referred to as fruit waste.

A ruminant is an animal with a four-chambered stomach, which has the ability of chew cud or regurgitate. Chewing cud means they push back food from the stomach into the mouth and chew it again before it is swallowed again to continue the digestive process in the stomach and intestines. Small ruminants are sheep and goats.

How does the research link small ruminants and food waste for sustainable African food systems?

There is a huge challenge in Ghana when it comes to livestock feed. Most of the ruminants are produced in the northern part of Ghana, where it tends to be hot and humid. The region is also greatly affected by climate change. Fruits are produced in the southern part of the country, and a lot of fruit waste occurs. The research project seeks to find ways to preserve fruit waste and looks at how best it can be channelled into the food chain as livestock feed. The fruit waste is ensiled (i.e., put into silo or silage clamp in order to preserve it as silage) with molasses, grass, or legumes and used as supplementary feed. The process contributes to sustainable food systems by taking waste and using it to generate something valuable and thereby also addressing the challenge of livestock feed scarcity.

What are the opportunities for smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs related to fermentation?

Any farmer with access to fruit by-products (e.g., from a factory), pasture, and forage is able to produce silage and store it for use during the dry season. Any entrepreneur can go into processing fruit by-products as a source of livestock feed. It is a promising business venture.

What are the main challenges related to linking small ruminants and food waste?

Fruit waste is currently thrown away; however, once something becomes useful it gains monetary value. In the long term, factories that were throwing away the fruit waste will begin to sell the waste. Once that happens, producers of livestock feed using fruit waste will find it expensive to produce the feed, especially smallholder farmers and young entrepreneurs.

Any words of wisdom for researchers in the animal science space?

Animal scientists should look at the environment and explore how that which is currently called waste can be made into something useful.

The 29th of September is the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. What is the call to action as we approach this day?

No waste is waste unless it is absolutely worthless!

In other words, what we call waste can be recycled and channelled into useful things, but that requires us to explore this potential.

To listen to the original interview, click here