It is estimated that 30 and 40 per cent of the food grown in developing countries, such as Uganda, is lost.
Some of it is eaten by birds and rodents when it is still in the field, some is destroyed by pests before and after harvest, while some of it just goes bad due to poor storage and delays in transport on its way to the market.
This unfortunate situation is not only a big threat to food security; it is also a major hindrance in the fight against poverty.
Most of our farmers lack suitable storage facilities and they are forced to sell all their harvest when more often than not the market price is at its lowest.
We have a tragic situation in which the farmers struggle to produce more than enough food to support their families but they continue to be hungry and poor.
One step to reduce food loss would be to teach our farmers about food preservation which, incidentally, is not rocket science.
Harvested cassava or sweet potatoes can be cleaned and cut into chips and dried under the sun.
Prolong shelf life
Food preservation is defined as the process of treating and handling food in such a way as to stop or to slow down its spoilage.
With the arrival of the rural electrification programme, farmers in their groups could take loans to acquire solar food driers.
Hydro-generated electricity can be used to power deep freezers that preserve milk, fish, and meat. Refrigeration can also prolong the shelf life of vegetables and fruits.
Food drying as a means of preserving food is as old as the hills. Our grandparents preserved meat and fish by drying them under the sun or by placing them at the fire place.
Today, many food crops including fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, and oil seeds can be preserved by drying.
When the food is laid out to dry it loses nearly 90 per cent of its water. Yet, it is water that keeps most of the micro-organisms that spoil the food.
When the water is removed from the food through drying, the micro-organisms lose accommodation and the food gains longer shelf life.
From Daily Monitor
Our daily lives are quite used to scientific innovations that we trust and use--mobile phone, radio, television, electricity, and even the car or motorcycle.
When a man-made device such as a mobile phone is used to communicate news of the death of a close relative, the entire homestead "goes wild". People begin wailing and making preparations for a burial without casting any doubt about the efficacy of the small handset by which the news was announced.
However, even in villages, where images and sounds travel through the air to a TV set in a living room, the farmers still has doubts about cloned coffee plantlets or tissue culture plantlets as preferable planting material for higher yields.
Many farmers feel safe driving a car, which is a scientific innovation but they shun biotechnology products, forgetting that they too are a result of scientific innovations like mobile phones and cars.
Scientists take time carrying out plant propagation. They make careful selection of certain varieties with desirable characteristics and manipulate their genetic make-up to build a good range of crop species.
These are aimed to be high yielding or disease resistant or to have strong growth vigour. They have evolved new crop varieties with economically desirable characteristics. This is technology that most of our farmers have failed to trust.
Through tissue culture, it is possible to produce thousands of clean, disease-free, plantlets of crops such as bananas, coffee, cassava and several other crops from the leaves of healthy parent crops.
Scientists also develop plants by vegetative propagation and come up with identical copies of the parent plant that has desirable characteristics. Such plants are referred to as clones. Cloned Robusta coffee plantlets sold at recognised coffee nurseries are a very good example of this.
Unfortunately, most of our farmers are still reluctant to accept planting materials that have been developed by scientists. They still prefer to use planting material obtained from previous harvests or to develop their own seedlings using traditional, backward methods. They do not trust modern agricultural scientific innovations and so agricultural production remains low.
Many farmers lose a lot of produce due to poor post-harvest handling among other reasons including lack of information, equipment, drying and storage facilities.
Quality is lost as many dry cereals on bare ground thus picking dust, stones and animal droppings. This is because most cereal producers are rural smallholder farmers.
However, interventions to improve post-harvest handling are taking shape with Sasakawa Global 2000, Ruhiira Millenium Villages Project (RMVP), Nuuma Feeds and other partners.
The results are promising as production of cereals is being promoted, not only post-harvest but value addition as well.
Dennis Musiime, 47, from Masha Sub-county, Isingiro District, is a beneficiary. He attests that before he got trained in good agricultural practices, his production was very low.
"I would plant two acres of maize and beans but have poor yields and some of it would go bad. At times by harvest, they would have gone bad in the field. Also, I would dry them on the bare ground," he says.
Together with other farmers, they formed a cooperative society, Manya Akabi Area Cooperative Enterprise (Maace). It brings together 8,146 members in the district; most of whom are women. Musiime was elected chairperson of his village.
He has six acres under maize and has already harvested 2.2 tonnes of beans. "The beans earned me Shs2.2m and I expect to harvest 800 kg of maize, which will fetch me Shs3. 2m," he says.
This has largely been possible because farmers like him have been empowered to grow for both food security and income generation.
"We have been taught to produce for the market through improved seeds, early planting techniques and fertilisers," he says. "I used fertilisers and expect to use more."
Molly Mbabazi, another farmer, is happy too. This season, she harvested two tonnes of beans and expects 200 kg of maize, which will bring in a total of Shs2.8m.
She attributes it to being a member of Maace, which has empowered women for better livelihoods .
"I do not depend on my husband. Each season, I earn good money. This has brought harmony in our family," she says.
Clare Kabakyenga, general manager, Maace, points out that the cooperative has helped farmers with bulk sales, good agronomic practices, clean seed and storage equipment. It has done this in partnership with RMVP on a cost-sharing basis.
"We have established 57 bulk centres, given farmers moisture meters, set up storage silos," she says.
From bulking centres, the maize is brought to a central store in Kaberebere Town; it has a capacity to hold 850 tonnes. It is cleaned, graded and then packed into bags according to the market. They vary from 100-kilo bags to 90, 80, 60 and 50 kilos.
The clients include schools and traders and it is even sold in DR Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda.
There are plans to procure machinery to process the maize into finished products, which will boost the income of farmers.
James Sendikadiwa, agriculture coordinator, RMVP, affirms there has been a significant improvement in the lives of the beneficiaries. "Farmers have been able to reduce aflatoxins, which are very dangerous to human and animals since farmers have silos and bags for proper storage."
Another factor is availability of machines which ensures faster harvesting and processing.
Musiime says due to the shortage of labour during harvest season, he bought a maize sheller. It can shell 60 bags of maize per hour. For each bag, he charges Shs 3,000.
This has enabled his group to ensure timely shelling thus guaranteeing quality.
James Murangira, theme coordinator, Sasakawa Global 2000, adds that farmers have improved production tremendously through the introduction of machinery for post-harvest handling.
Farmers have moved beyond production because after harvest, they can dictate prices since they have storage facilities, which allow them to keep their produce until the market is favourable to them.
From Daily Monitor
Government has been challenged to prioritise support towards building agribusiness incubation centres, if productivity is to be boosted along the value chain.
Agribusiness incubation is meant for supporting innovative ideas into practical business realities, yet these are still very expensive for young entrepreneurs.
Although government through the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) has come out to help innovative Ugandans through incubation, experts say more is needed countrywide to nurture the innovations.
"Support towards agribusiness incubation will make agriculture more profitable and attractive to the youth towards taking varied responsibilities along different nodes of the agriculture value chains," said Joseph Nkandu, executive director, National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (Nucafe).
He is also founder of the Consortium for Enhancing University of Responsiveness to Agribusiness Development (Curad).
He was happy to note that the beneficiaries under Curad have made products, which have become competitive on the market and striving to satisfy the demand.
"This is the typical success story on which government should ride to promote incubation across the country," said Nkandu while touring the Curad Agribusiness Incubator last week.
The facility is hosted at Makerere University Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo.
It works in partnership with National Agricultural Research Organisation, Nucafe, and Makerere University to impart practical skills to students, graduates, among others, as a way of encouraging development of agricultural value chains. Through this arrangement, incubatees get both financial and technology support to turn their agribusiness innovations and ideas into tangible and profitable commercial ventures.
Double the number
Apollo Segawa, managing director, Curad, said in the last four years the facility has been in existence, there have been more than 200 incubatees.
Curad is set to double the number of incubatees when their Sh350m agro-processing facility is established at the Kampala Industrial Development Park in Namanve.
Some of the innovations supported and developed under Curad include: Tissue culture propagation, mushroom production, coffee liqueur, coffee roasting and fruit juice making.
From Daily Monitor
After registering good harvests, many farmers are faced with a dilemma of storing their yields safely as all cannot be consumed or purchased at the same time.
Due to lack of enough stores and storage facilities, some farmers are seen storing their produce such as maize, beans, cowpeas among others in bags, sheds and under their beds, which are not ideal places to keep the produce safe from pests and other contaminations.
Normally after a harvest, supplies peak and prices are low. This is the worst time for any famer to sell their produce, but many have little choice. Sell for less or lose everything becomes the farmer's slogan.
Faced with such challenges, many farmers do not want to risk storing their produce. Instead, they sell them at harvest time when the prices are very low.
For fear of pests, some farmers use pesticides, which some health experts, say are harmful to people's lives and can cause diseases.
But with Purdue Improved Crop Storage (Pics) bags, farmers will no longer suffer with their harvests as the method provides cheap and easy storage technology.
According to Edward Ssekindu, financial services specialist, Clusa Uganda, which introduced Pics bags in the country, the triple layer bag protects harvests, especially grains from infections and losses during storage.
He says the innovation was done in 2007 by researchers at Purdue University, US, who teamed up with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The researchers found out that grains stored in airtight containers prevent the development of weevil larvae that feed on the dried grains, preserving the crop for more than a year.
Ssekindu says, before Pics bags also known as farmer's silo were introduced in Uganda in February 2014, a testing was done in West African countries such as Burkina Faso and Nigeria. They were found to be effective when it comes to storing harvests.
"According to tests which were done in West Africa, it was discovered that this kind of storage can be used to keep cowpeas, beans, maize, millet and other grains for a period of about a year or more safely and effectively," he says.
The bags were introduced via a pilot scheme in Kiryandongo, Apac and Dokolo.
During the first demonstration, the farmers were taught how to use the bags and later asked to store a crop of their choice for at least four months.
After which they open them at a gathering so that their fellow farmers can witness how the bags can be effective at addressing the problem of storage insect pests.
"The farmers opened their bags from July to September and found out that the crops were safe and not contaminated thus proving this method to be very useful," Ssekindu adds.
Anthony Mugisha, a farmer from Kiryandongo, who participated in the first demonstration. He stored maize for five months without using chemicals.
He believes using Pics bags to store crops will help farmers to improve their income as it will give them the power to determine when to sell their harvests.
"Due to lack of good stores and enough money to buy chemicals during the time of harvesting, we have been selling our crops cheaply to consumers and other dealers for fear of incurring losses, but this innovation will help us to keep our crops and be able to sell them at our convenient time," Mugisha says.
"Once you follow the recommended procedures, a farmer will be able to store his or her crops safely without using chemicals for a long period of time," Ssenkindu adds.
Pics bags provides an affordable and flexible storage option to farmers, especially those without money to buy chemicals or those who do not want to apply chemicals in their produces.
Aloysius Byamugisha, a farmer from Dokolo says, the new storage technology ensures food security, especially to the farming households since farmers can use them to keep dried food over long periods of time rather than selling off their harvests cheaply in fear of pest damage and buying back the same from traders at times of scarcity at higher prices.
"Immediately after harvest, prices are very low hence farmers can keep grains for three to four months and sell at better prices without fear of quality deterioration," he says.
This type of storing crops provides a safe way to store grains as compared to the dangerous chemicals that are normally used by the farmers and traders to prevent insect pest attacks.
"Some countries and international organisations who buy our crops such as maize, beans and other grains have on different occasions threatened to reduce on the price of crops stored using chemicals than those which are chemical free," Byamugisha adds.
Selling chemical-free crops, especially abroad, will enable Uganda crops to compete favourably with those from other countries such as Kenya who are using this method of storing crops.
Pics bags can also be adopted by schools, prisons and other institutions that purchase produce in plenty. The bags are currently being sold at Shs7,000 and can be used for a period of about four years. Each can store a quantity of up to 100 kilogrammes.
How the pics bag works
The bag is made of two liners high density polyethylene which is impermeable and one layer of double woven propylene sac.
Pics bags are airtight storage bags where the two polyethylene liners if properly sealed, cut off air supply from the outside, the oxygen inside the bag is used during metabolism and carbon dioxide released accumulates inside the bag.
"Before storing crops, one should ensure that the yields are very dry and clean. Remove all the debris from the harvests. Drying before storage may help to reduce the initial rate of infestation," advises Hosea Jemba, communications consultant, Clusa.
After preparing the harvests, the farmer should take the three pics bags apart and check the two inner bags for holes and tears.
Pour a small amount of crops into the inner bag. This will help to easily insert the first bag into the second.
Insert the first polyethylene bag into the second bag and make sure that there are no air pockets at the bottom.
Insert the two polyethylene bags into the woven polyethylene bag, fold over the top of the woven polyethylene bag and do the same with the second bag as well.
Fill the inner bag with more crops and shake gently to reduce the pockets of air and make sure that there is no grain gets between the bags.
Fill the bag far enough so that a lip remains for tying and pack the grain tightly to remove air.
From Daily Monitor