In sleepy Kiponzero village in rural Iringa, Tanzania, we weave through footpaths covered with dry maize stalks, looking for Samuel Bangi’s house. After several turns, we find Mr Bangi busy shelling maize, ready for storage.
At the centre of his compound, that also contains his two-bedroom house and a cow pen is a traditional shelling structure, which he uses after harvesting the grain.
Using a traditional sheller, Bangi pounds the maize atop a modified sieve, which breaks and scatters the grain, including on a mat spread underneath the sieve. The sheller is time and energy consuming.
“I have been using this traditional shelling method for a very long time. It is the easiest way to shell this maize, but it is time consuming,” Mr Bangi says as he demonstrates how it is done.
Behind Mr Bangi is his holding bay, with about seven tonnes of unshelled maize.
“I expect to finish this job, with the assistance of my family, in the next five days. Then I will take the maize to the co-operative for aggregation and storage. We have an agreement with a buyer who will be coming to pick it up,” he says, adding that he expects $1,400 from the sale of his harvest.
Mr Bangi is among millions of regional farmers who are still stuck with manual shelling of maize, said to contribute to more than 30 per cent of grain loss, mostly through breaking. Due to financial constraints, most farmers opt to spread their grains in the sun to dry before using pesticide, then storing it in the bags.
Six kilometres from Mr Bangi’s homestead is Mathew Kaundama’s, at Kalenga village. Mr Kaundama is already using a mechanical sheller for his maize harvest.
Mr Kaundama says that he also uses special bags that do away with the need for post-harvest chemicals.
“I pride myself on products that are free from any chemicals and whose toxin levels are acceptable. This has got us an even more secure, ready market because of the superior quality of the maize,” Mr Kaundama said, adding that before embracing modern technology, he had losses of up to 100 kilogrammes per tonne.
“With this technology, we have reduced the loss to about five kilogrammes per tonne. This technology also allows us to store the maize longer. The bag is made up of three layers of permeable material that allows the maize to ‘breathe’ so it doesn’t get mouldy. I wish the government could champion this,” he says.
Mr Kaundama says that through modern harvesting methods, his yield has increased from 5-8 bags per acre, to 12-18 bags.
“I lease the sheller from our co-operative at a cost of $4 a day. It is among the technologies that have helped us because we plant maize for commercial purposes, hence the need to minimise losses,” Mr Kaundama says.
Yield Wise project
In Kenya and Uganda, weevils have been singled out as a major cause of post-harvest grain losses, with chemicals also bringing about the aflatoxins issue. The region has for years seen farmers lose through poor storage facilities and substandard storage, forcing most farmers to dispose of the maize immediately at lower costs rather than face losses during storage.
However, under the $130 million Yield Wise project initiated by the Rockefeller Foundation and Agra to reduce post-harvest losses in maize, countries like Tanzania, where maize farming is practised by the majority of the farmers, will see a change in the post-harvest handling of this produce.
Govere Jones, the Agra Yield Wise project co-ordinator, says that they have been able to link farmers to big buyers due to a value chain approach from the planting to storage.
“We have managed to do this through aggregation, which allows collective selling by farmers to a single buyer through a forward delivery method. All this has been made possible because of the proper storage solutions, like metal silos and hermetic cocoons,” Mr Jones said.
Farmers in the region are now organised into co-operatives, where they are supported with finance to buy seeds, storage bags, shelling machines and even find buyers in a bid to ensure the losses are minimised at each level.
Post-harvest food losses in sub-Saharan Africa have seen 20 million tonnes of grain or 40 per cent of the harvest valued at $4 billion, lost annually through inadequate post-harvest management on the farms, poor storage, lack of structured markets and limited processing capacity. The region alone suffers in excess of $500 million in grain losses annually with Tanzania leading with close to $300 million or 1.5 million tonnes.
One of the implementing organisations in Tanzania, Building Rural Incomes through Enterprise (Briten), said that poor pre- and post-harvesting techniques have limited the farmer’s ability to enjoy the economic benefits of maize, one of the country’s food exports.
Briten managing director Josephine Kaiza said that better policies and regulations are required to attract the private sector to post-harvest management of crops.
“Research shows that up to 40 per cent of the crops are lost due to use of poor technologies. For our four million maize farmers, this means massive losses annually. We need to see a policy shift that will allow the private sector to aggressively address this issue,” Ms Kaiza said.
To reduce losses, Rafael Flor, deputy regional director of Africa for Rockefeller Foundation, said they have spent more than $50 million in technology interventions through right seeds and good practices like early planting and harvest.
“We are focusing on the pre-storage and storage phases, which are responsible for more than half of the loss in traditional shelling. This, coupled with the reduced need for chemicals, brings about savings. Loss reduction is a systemic approach,” Mr Flor said, adding that though it is encouraging to see farmers clean their grain, there is still a need to have the markets provide incentives for clean grains.
Rockefeller Foundation is supporting maize, tomato and mango farmers in Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya respectively.
Dr Mary Mgonja, Agra Kenya country director, said that it is time for the region to scale up innovations that will reduce post-harvest losses so as to help smallholder farmers maximise their efforts.
“We have started a three-year initiative across the region to reduce grain losses. Farmers will have access to finance for mechanical threshers, hermetic bags, and storage silos. This will eliminate the traditional methods they have been employing, which result in losses,” Dr Mgonja said, adding that the initiative will also target farmers in Botswana, Burkina Faso and Mozambique, who have been experiencing losses in soya bean and cowpea farming.
Storage aggregation centres
Last week, the United Kingdom announced a $3 million package channelled through Farm Africa’s Food Trade East and Southern Africa trade enhancement and promotion programme that will allow maize and rice farmers in the region access to local storage aggregation centres to ensure the quality of their harvests.
Marc Van Uytvanck, team leader of Food Trade East and Southern Africa, said that through this programme, the farmers will be supported to improve post-harvest storage practices and facilities, thereby increasing the amount of produce available for sale.