Food security is a major global concern in the face of population growth and diminishing energy and water supplies. By 2030, demand for food will grow by 50% compared to current levels. An EU-funded project aims to show that post-harvest losses can be reduced through innovation, leading to a safer, more sustainable food supply.
Reducing post-harvest losses has been identified as an efficient and cost-effective means of achieving a more sustainable food supply. This applies especially to the fisheries sector, where up to 50% of fish are lost through lack of adequate preservation and waste.
Securefish, a truly international and highly innovative EU-funded project, was launched in early 2012 with the aim of improving food security through dramatically reducing post-harvest losses in the fisheries sector. This benefits both business and consumers.
The inaugural meeting of the project was held at the University of Surrey, UK in February 2012 and was attended by representatives of the 13 project partners from Europe (the Netherlands and Portugal), Africa (Kenya, Namibia and Ghana), Asia (India and Malaysia) and Latin America (Argentina). The initiative will develop new approaches to reducing post-harvest losses, and test new technology and quality-management tools in real-life situations in Asia and Africa.
Securing and efficient
In ultimately aiming to reduce post-harvest losses, the project has several objectives, according to project coordinator Professor Nazlin Howell. "The first is to strengthen capacity in low-cost technology in several countries, through developing more efficient processing techniques." For example, a solar tunnel drier to dry fish is currently being developed, which will be more hygienic; in some parts of the world, fish continues to be dried on the beach or on rocks. Continuous atmospheric freeze-drying technology is also being modified and implemented.
The second objective is to improve the preservation of existing fish supplies and utilise waste and by-catch to produce value-added products. These include bioactive peptides and nutraceuticals – food products which could have wide-ranging health benefits, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
"You lose 60% of the fish from filleting through discarded bone, skin and flesh, but we can make new products from this waste," explains Prof. Howell. She is busy with a team of PhD students and research fellows breaking down fish proteins into peptides, and examining whether they may have bioactive properties.
SMEs are involved in this aspect of the project as well. According to Prof. Howell, a lot of this research has the potential to be commercialised, but the work being carried out in this project is just the first step in a long process of bringing possible new nutraceuticals to market.
Securefish is also developing an integrated quality-management tool that will be used for safety and risk assessment, hazard analysis and critical control points, quality cost and traceability, nutritional and eating quality, as well as measuring the carbon footprint. The resulting guidelines and processes will be tested in three selected fish-product chains in Africa, Asia and Latin America. These case studies will involve all relevant stakeholders, including SMEs, to ensure the sustained implementation of project results and best practices for future wider implementation.
"This project has the potential to have a huge impact, with benefits for consumers, fish processors and governmental and non-governmental organisations," says Prof. Howell. "It has the possibility to help reduce losses, improve nutritional quality, develop health benefits and open up possible new business opportunities from the peptides work in the lab."
The global approach of the project, involving partners on three continents, illustrates the interconnectedness of the food supply chain, and how events on the other side of the world can have an impact on Europe.
Securefish also recognises that new solutions to achieving a more sustainable and safe food supply must be found if we are to face the challenges of feeding more people with increasingly limited resources.