Turning a loss into a win

Published by John Churchill on 09 February 2018

One-third of the food the world produces is either wasted by consumers or lost before it reaches the table. Using its expertise in refrigerated transport and logistics, A.P. Moller - Maersk is investigating ways of helping to address the global challenge of food loss with a business solution.

The biggest challenge for many developing countries like Nigeria, pictured, is what happens to food before it reaches the consumer

For Nigerian tomato farmers, just getting the juicy red fruit to market is a gamble. As much as half of the West African nation’s 1.8 million tonnes of tomatoes produced each year is lost due to spoilage or damage during transport to domestic markets.

The tomato is a staple in Nigerian cooking and a symbol of the global challenge of food loss. As opposed to food waste - surplus food that is thrown out and a bigger problem for developed countries - the biggest challenge for many developing countries is what happens to the food before it reaches the customer.

“Nigeria is one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, so it isn’t only tomatoes. This is a huge market that is losing about half of everything it produces because there is no cold-chain infrastructure or processes in place to support an efficient supply chain,” says Annette Stube, Head of Sustainability, A.P. Moller - Maersk.

Sustainability priorities

Helping reduce global food loss is one of three sustainability priorities in A.P. Moller - Maersk, along with reducing CO2 emissions and multiplying the benefits of trade.

These issues represent the areas where A.P. Moller - Maersk wants to create shared value by proactively addressing big societal challenges in a way that draws on the company’s competencies as a transport and logistic company, enabling upside for the business as well. The 17 sustainable development goals that the United Nations laid out in 2015 for social, environmental and economic progress by 2030 are used as a key filter for which challenges society is focused on solving.

“The basis of our sustainability work will always be to make sure we have our own house in order and minimise our negative impact first. However, on top of that, companies like ours can also create scalable, positive solutions to these big sustainability challenges while growing our business,” says Annette Stube.

Testing a market solution

In the food loss area, A.P. Moller - Maersk is investigating with private and public partners how it can make use of its expertise in refrigerated transport and logistics to create an end-to-end commercial solution.

It is still the beginning of a process that for now is largely about surveying the global opportunities and determining what the associated challenges are, including for example communication and coordination with local authorities and supply chain actors.

A small trial involving one reefer container in December in Nigeria is illustrative. Instead of using traditional wooden raffia baskets loaded on conventional trucks for the bumpy ride to regional markets, 18.6 tonnes of tomatoes were aggregated from several farms at Dutsen Wai, a large tomato hub in northern Nigeria, packed in plastic crates and loaded in a reefer container for the 1,050-kilometre journey to Mile 12 market in Lagos, the largest vegetable hub market in Nigeria. The result? For the first time, all the tomatoes arrived in good condition.

It indicates just how significant the problem of food loss is and that the capabilities of A.P. Moller - Maersk are a good match for addressing it.

“It’s just a first step, but it shows the impact reefer technology and better processes can have on traditional methods of trade,” says Ebun Mesaiyete, Business Development Partner for APM Terminals in Nigeria, who coordinated the trial and worked with local partners to arrange the details of the shipment with farmers, including the best aggregation and distribution points.

“We will continue to work with local partners to understand the challenges and to ensure a scalable, cost efficient and sustainable solution is achieved. Our goal is to eventually deliver many more trips from varied locations in the country.”