3 cheap Ideas to Reduce Food Losses.

Post-harvest food loss is one of the key challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa. In Kenya, the losses stand at 10% to 30% depending on the crop type. This exposes millions of people to food scarcity and reduces farmer and traders’ profits as destroyed food cannot be sold, consumed or fed to livestock. Consumers have suffered health-wise and even died from aflatoxin poisoning.

Poorly stored maize and other grains can decay, get decolourised or get contaminated by the deadly aflatoxin poison.  This happens because of improper drying (>13.5% moisture content) before storage.  It may also result from exposure to moisture and other weather elements while on the farm, during transit or storage. This leads to the growth of fungi that harbours the deadly poison.  Improper storage makes food vulnerable to destructive storage pests such as the weevil’s larger grain borers and rodents.  

To caution themselves from storage cereal destruction, farmers use toxic preservatives to keep pests at bay. Chemicals toxicity expires after which the cereals are re-fumigated to remain safe, making it expensive for farmers and traders. There are grave concerns for health and food safety as pesticide residues have proven to endanger consumer’s health.

Safety from rodents and moisture requires the use of quality storage bags and properly constructed granaries. Most farmers, however, use gunny bags which can’t withstand strong gnawer’s teeth. To construct a well ventilated and rat proof garner is expensive for most smallholder farmers.

 As a result, farmers sell their grains at low prices immediately after harvest to avoid storage losses. This way they enjoy low profits. Others adopt the traditional storage practises as describe above which is expensive.

So how can farmers store their grains cheaply without chemicals and ensure food safety? In this article, we will focus on reducing post-harvest losses and storage cost of dry cereals such as maize and pulses in storage. You will need to use cheap hermetic bags and other airtight containers.  This will limit your use for toxic chemicals to ensure food safety.

Hermetic storage bags?

Hermetic bags
Hermetic bags

Effective food storage is beneficial for farmers, traders and food processors. It cuts down on post-harvest food losses and improves player’s profits. One of the emerging trends in post-harvest loss management technology is the use of hermetic storage bags. It applies to farmers and traders who produce or purchase and store maize (cereals) for own use or sale later in the season.

The hermetic bag has several layers for better resistance against moisture, air and pests.  It can preserve dried maize, beans, cowpeas, green grams, sorghum, millet and other cereals without the use of pesticide dust.  Tightly pack your maize grains into the air-tight plastic bag and close bag with string or wire.  Then Squeeze out any remaining air when tying the plastic bag to minimizes the entry of air from any tears in the plastic bags. This chokes any living organisms and creates unfavourable conditions for pest multiplication.

 Pros of using hermetic bags

  • you can store grains up to  24 months or 2 years while keeping their qualities
  • It does not require pesticides to treat the stored grains easing human health, and safety challenges associated with fumigants
  • They are cheaper compared to metallic silos with a 50-100 kg bags retailing at around Ksh 200 in Kenya.
  • It increases your farming income as you do not have pressure to sell grains soon after harvest when prices are very low. You can sell products when prices are high during the shortage season.
Where to buy the best cheap hermetic bags

To get hermetic bags for sale in Kenya, you can either buy hermetic bags locally or import by ordering one online. Some of the leading brands in Kenya are Purdue Improved crop storage (PICS), GrainPro-Super Grain, Zero fly, Agro Z and Elite bags.

Mini-silos; Airtight Metallic and Plastic Containers

Mini-silos;  Airtight  Metallic and Plastic Containers
Hermetic metallic and plastic mini silos

These apply to individual farmers and final grain consumers for storing cereals for domestic use. It will cut post-harvest cereal losses resulting from poor storage conditions such as leaking roofs, a rodent’s invasion and torn packaging bags.

The silos come in various capacities: 1500kg, 1200kg, 1000kg, 700kg, 500kg, 350 kg, 250 kg and 100 kg making it affordable to various groups. They are made of galvanized steel sheet, 0.5 mm thick and soldered with tin to be purely hermetic. A silo has two openings; on top to fill the grain and an outlet on the side. The silos’ openings are closed with a lid which has rubber band seals.

 Place the silo in a protected area from rain and sun in a granary storage room or a room inside the house. Do not place them directly on the floor but place it on a wooden platform at least 15 cm above the ground level. 

Pros of using metallic mini-silos.
  • Long lifespan of up to 20 years.
  • They have variety and are affordable to various people as it comes in different capacities
  • You can store grains for over one (1) year ensuring food availability throughout the year.
  • Reduces your food losses by up to 15% rate and you can enjoy a stored market gain of around 50%.
  • It increases your farming income as you do not have pressure to sell grains soon after harvest when prices are very low. You can sell products when prices are high during the lean season.

Store shelled, clean and sun-dried grains. Treat the grains with a fumigant before putting it in the silo. You should check the grain condition from time to time.

Airtight Grain containers

Airtight food containers

These apply for consumers at home to store grains (rice, grams, and beans) flour and other dry food components at home. It cuts down on food loss and wastage at home. They come in various shapes, makes and sizes. You will find some made of plastic, wood, glass or stainless steel and are a great addition in your food storage and kitchen arrangement.  Some are transparent, allowing you to check your food’s condition without opening. You can get them in sets of 3, 4, 6 or 10 containers.

Where to buy the best plastic airtight grain containers

You can find airtight food containers for sale in your local stores. If you cannot find a desirable make or size shop for one in a leading online store.

How to dry your grains adequately before storage

Before storing grains in a hermetic bag, metallic silos or airtight plastic containers ensure you have achieved the right moisture content. e.g. <13.5% for maize grains.

Grains can be hygienically sun-dried for around 3 days. You can also use a commercial dryer on-farm or offsite. While sun drying, ensure you dry seeds on top of waterproof canvases. to check on the grain’s moisture content use handheld grain moisture digital testers to measure and record samples’ parameters. 

Samuel K

Samuel Kibicho is an Agribusiness development writer and consultant at Agcenture

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