Team Collecting Loss Data at Plantain Packhouse.
Team Collecting Loss Data at Plantain Packhouse. | Credit: Laura Brenes Peralta

Food Loss and Waste Value Chain Selection Guide

Pilot in the Huetar Caribbean Region, Costa Rica
By Laura Brenes Peralta, PhD, Eva Vargas Solís, Natalia Díaz Herrera, Julia Shuck, Rashmi Ekka

The second Food Loss and Waste Value Chain Selection Guide pilot was conducted in the beautiful tropical country of Costa Rica. Agribusiness Associates (ABA) developed the Food Loss and Waste Value Chain Selection Guide, Second Edition funded by USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. The updated guide and toolkit helps users identify and evaluate which value chains should be prioritized to reduce food loss and waste. The Costa Rica pilot was conducted from April 25 to May 6, 2022, and was a tremendous collaborative effort of teams from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, USDA Costa Rica, local consultants from FUNDATEC, and ABA. USDA Costa Rica and the Ministry proposed to pilot the guide in the Huetar Caribbean Region. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Huetar Caribbean Regional Director, Yendri Delgado, and the Executive Secretariat for Agricultural Sector Planning, Francini Araya, were delegated as national counterparts, serving as the pilot's food loss and waste core team.

Costa Rica has a strong record of following UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and was the first to sign a National Pact for the Advancement of SDGs in September 2016. The country has incorporated SDG 12.3, reducing food loss and waste in the National Policy on Sustainable Production and Consumption. Various food loss and waste strengths of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock that contributed to the success of this pilot:

  • The knowledge its agents have of the territory
  • A team of professionals and technicians trained to address productive aspects of the agricultural value chains
  • Its local and national institutional coverage

Costa Rica is highly interested in fulfilling the SDGs, but structural and statistical challenges hinder progress. According to the Technical Secretariat of the SDGs in Costa Rica, only 55 percent of the total SDG monitoring indicators in the country are currently available. About 16 percent of indicators are not produced at all, including those related to SDG 12.3, which indicates the need to strengthen actions to more systematically address the issue of food loss and waste. While some national policies and projects address food loss and waste, including the Executive Secretariat for Agricultural Sector Planning-FAO cooperation, there has not been a regional approach, which became a key motivation for this pilot. Furthermore, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock's Institutional Strategic Plan (2019-2022) had specific goals for the Huetar Caribbean Region to train more farmers in applying good agricultural practices and promoting sustainable production.

The Huetar Caribbean Region represents 18 percent of Costa Rica's territory and is located mainly in Limón Province. Fresh fruits such as bananas, pineapple, and cassava constitute 81.8 percent of total exports from the region. One competitive advantage of the area is the presence of the most important ports in the country for agricultural export to the USA and the EU. Therefore, value chain priorities at the regional level could focus on finding products and by-products with value addition opportunities, increased production yield and efficiency, and environmental aspects. 


Participatory exercise for the selection of prioritization criteria.
Participatory exercise for the selection of prioritization criteria.

The pilot followed a 5-step value chain selection process as described in the guide: 

  1. Prepare for food loss and waste value chain selection exercise
  2. Framing a food loss and waste objective
  3. Identify and prioritize value chains 
  4. Data collection 
  5. Validate food loss and waste value chain selection

The team used various methodologies during the pilot including participatory methods, collection of information and secondary data, and field observation with applied tools for interviews, focus groups, and data collection in the field under a case study approach.

With limited data on regional food loss and waste, the core team formulated the pilot objective: To prioritize the value chains of the Huetar Caribbean Region in which the problem of food losses and waste and the main factors that affect this phenomenon will be explored, to trigger its future reduction through strategies that improve the economic and environmental conditions of the area. Members voted and selected 11 criteria to prioritize value chains: economic results, food loss, investment opportunities, climatic events, number of producers per area, availability of data/information, water footprint, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock-producer accessibility, land footprint, carbon footprint, and food safety. 

Later, participants formed groups and evaluated their value chains of interest according to the defined indicators. The resulting systematic prioritization ranked the identified value chains in the following order of importance (highest to lowest): plantain, papaya, cassava, baby banana, corn, yam, pumpkin, cocoa, and banana-criollo. Because of the harvest season, physical accessibility, and contacts, the final five crops selected for the validation exercise were plantain, papaya, cassava, baby banana, and banana-criollo. The team visited fields for observation, measurement, interviews, and focus group discussions with producers and other value chain actors. The data collection tools used were food waste surveys of market vendors and consumers, food loss surveys of producers and packers, on-farm data collection tools, and packing plant data collection tools. These tools came from the guide, and some were adapted from prior food loss and waste exercises performed in Costa Rica.

  1. Plantain: Huetar Caribbean Region has 18.61 percent plantain farmers in Costa Rica. In 2020, the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Costa Rica recorded 6,846,953 MT of plantain sales and 145,375 MT postharvest losses in Costa Rica. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock was interested in plantain as 3,254 producers grow it, and its demand is high with an estimated price of 180 Costa Rican colónes per unit. The team observed government wholesale marketing at the Food Supply and Distribution National Center for fresh green and ripe plantains. The members measured a 9 percent loss in the packing plant or industry stages; 5 percent rejected at reception, 1 percent lost during unloading, and 4 percent lost during peeling. Plantains can be harvested at different stages of maturity, reducing instances of loss due to harvest timing. The first and second-grade plantains sell at national and international markets; the third grade is for animal feed. Plantains were the top-ranked product in the pilot's value chains due to the estimated value of food loss in both production and the higher loss percentage. Of the pilot crops, plantain contributes most to the Costa Rican basic food basket, scoring high in the food security criterion.


Laura Brenes Peralta assessing papayas.
Laura Brenes Peralta assessing papayas.
  1. Papaya: Of the 3,264 papaya farmers in Costa Rica, 12.16 percent are in the Huetar Caribbean Region. In 2019, the sale of papaya was 3,080,880 MT, and 186,090 MT were postharvest losses in Costa Rica. Papaya is a fruit usually consumed fresh. It is of high-middle importance in the region, recognized as a hotspot of papaya production at the national level. Papaya is a priority in public sector policies, as there is 1,089 ha under 397 farms. At the time of the study, its market price was 250 Costa Rican colónes per kilogram, with a medium but stable demand throughout the year in the Costa Rican market. At the farm, 9 percent of the fruit was discarded or left in the field due to pests, diseases, or fruits from female flowering plants, which have an unacceptable shape for markets. Farmers harvest papayas at their optimum ripening point. At this stage, previously unseen defects can result in a 6 percent loss. Pathological damage causes an additional 1 percent loss of papayas at the packhouse.
  2. Cassava - The Huetar Caribbean Region is home to 17.47 percent of cassava producers in Costa Rica. In 2020, the National Insitute of Statistics and Census of Costa Rica recorded 7,790,554 MT of Cassava sales and 689,325 MT postharvest losses in Costa Rica. Because of high domestic and international consumption, cassava has high priority in sectoral policies. The price during the study was 350 Costa Rican colónes per kilogram. The cassava value chain has the highest economic loss value. It was the second most important crop in food security due to its high caloric contribution. After harvesting, farmers grade cassava at the farm; first grade for export, second for local market/industry while discarding the remaining. An estimated 12 percent loss occurs and would be unlikely to be used even for animal feed due to the product's small size and lack of economic value. According to the packhouse manager, "We discard around 3 percent of the damaged cassava at the packhouse and may send that to the local market if it meets basic requirements." Interestingly, Huetar Caribbean Region has the highest cassava yield in the country, so important initiatives are going on to promote value addition in the region. It is exciting because of the region's proximity to the export port.


Banana being transported from the boat to a truck.
Banana being transported from the boat to a truck.
  1. Banana-criollo: During the prioritization matrix exercise, banana-criollo had low to medium importance for Costa Rica, but was of interest in the Huetar Caribbean Region. Per one sector expert, "Banana-criollo has high commercial value as fresh produce due to strong consumer demand." The price at the time of the study was 30/Costa Rican colónes per unit. There is no official data on the area planted, the number of producers, and total yields. However, one publication estimated 258 ha planted with an output of 10.2 tons per ha. The losses observed by the team were 1.05 percent at the farm level during separating bunches and discarding damaged produce, 0.73 percent while transporting bananas on the river from the boat to the truck, and 1.19 percent for not meeting specifications at the packhouse. Fresh banana-criollo has only a domestic market and no export demand. Generally, banana-criollo production happens in indigenous areas, and they are harvested from different farms and transported to a loading truck through boats for further distribution.  
  2. Baby Banana: Baby Banana has moderate national consumption levels and low priority for government policies. Yet, fresh Baby Banana has grown in economic value and achieved a delicacy status nationally and internationally. There was a significant lack of data for this value chain, so the economic performance criteria, the number of farmers, and soil management could not be estimated. However, it was considered a product of high vulnerability due to climatic events. The team observed a 0.58 percent loss at the packhouse for bananas that did not meet market specifications. Baby Bananas were ranked last in the prioritization matrix because of low levels of losses compared to other value chains due to the use of tape indicators assisting with timely harvesting, minor damage or safety risk during handling, and alternative distribution options. 

The final step of the value chain selection process was the validation workshop. To summarize the pilot's success, the core team members Francini Araya and Yendri Delgado said, "The pilot generated knowledge and motivation to begin considering interventions to reduce food loss and waste. It will allow us to think about possible solutions and to prioritize value chain products and sections where we can target investments.

Costa Rica
Agriculture, Food Security, Partnership
Latin America & Caribbean

Laura Brenes Peralta, PhD

Laura has a PhD in International Cooperation and Sustainable Development. She is a research fellow, thesis supervisor and speaker in seminars, workshops and winter/summer Schools at several Latin American institutions and universities. She is also the current coordinator of the Costa Rican Food Loss and Waste Network. Her Extension and Research activities include a comprehensive view on food waste prevention and valorisation through awareness, circular processes, value-adding and Life Cycle Thinking approaches. Her research topics and consultancies for international organizations relate to local agribusiness competitiveness, sustainable food systems, food losses and waste, biocircular economy and Life Cycle Assessment in the agri-food and agro-forestry sectors.

Eva Vargas Solís

Eva is a consultant for FUNDATEC and international organizations gaining experience in the prevention and measurement of food loss and waste, as well as in municipal solid waste management. She has volunteered in research and awareness activities for the Costa Rican Food Loss and Waste Network. She is the co-owner of a small family business of honey production and beekeeping. She led the sustainability and R&D team of Agro Asesores San Roque S.A., while providing support in FSSC22000 certification processes and organic production certifications in the agricultural sector.

Natalia Díaz Herrera

Julia Shuck

Julia Shuck is a consultant with Agribusiness Associates Inc. (ABA), working on food loss and waste projects, including piloting the Food Loss and Waste Value Chain Selection Guide, conducting postharvest loss assessments for corn and soybeans in the US Midwest, and supporting postharvest research design and analysis of palm nuts in Cameroon, among others. Julia was a member of the Congressional Hunger Center’s 8th class of Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellows, working for a year each with the Foundation for Ecological Security in India, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC. She has a M.S. in International Agricultural Development from the University of California and a B.S. in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Missouri Columbia. Julia grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm in rural Northeast Missouri.

Rashmi Ekka

Rashmi Ekka is a Food Loss and Waste expert with a market systems and value chain development approach. She has designed and managed several Food Loss and Waste projects, most notably in Rwanda and Burkina Faso. She has led research teams to conduct Food Loss and Waste Assessments as well as develop Food Loss and Waste reduction strategy for horticulture crops in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Rwanda, and India, row crops in the US, and palm oil in Cameroon. Rashmi has an MBA from University of California Davis and a BA in Economics from The College of Wooster.

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