Post-harvest losses can spoil cheer of good yield

Source: Post-harvest losses can spoil cheer of good yield | The Herald April 11, 2017

Obert Chifamba Agri-Insight
Amid the craziness of readying farm produce for storage or the market, it’s easy for farmers to go a little overboard in the stampede to get over with it and earn some cash or just get the much-needed rest.

Usually losses during harvesting occur between the beginning and completion of the process thanks to multiple factors that include the method of harvesting, condition of the crop at harvesting and how it is later moved from the field to storage or marketing point.

Globally, official statistics indicate that roughly 30 percent of the food that gets harvested is lost or wasted every year in the production process.

Nearer home, Africa’s statistics show that between 10 and 20 percent of grain losses occur from the start of harvesting to the marketing stage while further losses occur during processing and transportation from the field and to the markets as well.

This year, Zimbabwe’s Command Agriculture programme and the lavish rains that fell have brought more smiles than tears to many farmers who are reaping huge rewards from their toil.

It is this excitement that has in most cases pushed them off-guard and left a substantial quantity of the grain going to waste.

According to various World Bank studies, food drying and storage in the immediate post-harvest period are the main drivers of food loss.

Post-harvest losses and their consequences for development are a widely recognised challenge, particularly with the headwinds of rising populations, food security and extreme poverty shaping much of the 2030 development agenda.

Efficiencies of all sorts are needed in agriculture value chains to boost food production and maximize the inputs for growing food, not least of which is eliminating or drastically reducing the amount that goes to waste.

Every one percent reduction in post-harvest losses leads to $40 million in output gains, with farmers as key beneficiaries, according to the World Bank.

As a starting point, it is imperious to monitor closely the beginning of the supply chains, as losses occur throughout all parts of the value chain from harvesting through to processing, distribution and consumption.

Damage, spillage, rotting and discard all undermine the amount of food that is ultimately consumed.

Farmers should also realise that there are pre-harvest losses to contend with too. These normally occur as a result of weeds, pests, diseases or encroachment into fields by animals. Losses would have already started once any of these factors is allowed to happen during the production process so post-harvest losses will only serve to increase the losses depriving the farmer of more revenue ultimately.

Sometimes farmers face liquidity constraints and a limited ability to access finance at those times or seasons when they need it most, which either causes pre-harvest or post-harvest losses.

If they can’t mobilise resources to exterminate pests or weeds, then yields are grossly compromised and losses set in starting at this point.

At the point of harvesting they also need to be adequately prepared to deploy manpower or the proper equipment to gather the produce and prepare it either for storage or the market. Most farmers don’t have the money to invest in drying, storage or other agricultural technologies before a harvest and as a result, they are forced to sell at peak harvest when supply is high and prices are low.

They don’t get the premiums that they might if they were able to properly store their grains and sell it several months after the harvest.

I have seen many farmers going to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) with the intention of selling their grain only to be turned away, as their grain would have failed to meet the required moisture content for safe storage.

GMB requires grain to have a moisture content of 13 percent so anything above this is sent away.

In most cases this is where the problem starts for most farmers. They will hurriedly need to dry the grain to the required moisture levels yet studies indicate that grain under natural drying conditions loses just 2 percent of moisture per week, which leaves the option of sending the grain to a drier the more plausible one yet out of reach for many because of cash constraints.

This kind of scenario is usually driven by pressing needs yet it leaves the produce exposed to in-transit losses as well as further storage losses.

The farmer also faces a serious threat from losses inspired by thefts. People can always steal unprotected grain for various reasons so the farmer needs to boost security once he or she has stored grain either to dry or in transit to the market.

Most road shoulders are littered with grain that falls from lorries ferrying it to the market so those farmers that do not bag their produce may need to seal all the openings on the floor of the trailer with sacks or even plastics to make sure all the grain gets to the intended destination.

Thereafter, they need to remind the transporter to frequently check for leakages. For the grain that is stored at home, the farmer needs to guard against weevils and rodents that naturally feed on the stuff.

It is better to sell two or three bags to those in dire need of grain and raise the money required for the purchase of chemicals to control the vermin.

Many farmers always claim they could not get money to buy chemicals for the control of bugs and lose tonnes of grain in the process yet the sale of just two or three bags could have saved the entire granary.