If one were to travel through the vast lush lands of Uganda and come across Kongoidi village, nestled between Bukedea and Mbale district, here you will stumble upon Demetria.
The 70 year old mother of eight grown-up children makes her income from ploughing the fields of her mangoes, cabbages, bananas, oranges, rice and beans, and selling her chicken produce. One could say that she is a living poster child of small-holder farming in Africa.
Though the arch in her back, worn hands and slight limp in her step attest to her old age, Demetria has not let it slow down her entrepreneurial spirit. When she’s not harvesting her mangoes, she manages a small shop where she sells the eggs from her 600 chicken.
Despite this, her perseverance has barely born any fruit. By failing to prune and dispose of rotten mangoes that have fallen to the ground, she has unknowingly been attracting pests such as fruit flies and rats, which cause noticeable destruction. This reduces the quality and quantity of the fruit which ultimately leads to lower yields and a reduction in possible income from the harvest sales.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case. Across sub-Saharan Africa, food loss affects over 470 million small-holder farmers and can cost up to 15 per cent of their income. This is food that is lost along the chain during harvesting and marketing, and is largely attributed to inefficiencies at the level of the farmer. According to The Rockefeller Foundation, these losses occur due to any number of reasons, from inappropriate harvesting techniques to inadequate storage and animal attacks.
So what can be done to circumvent food loss and wastage?
Fortunately, food waste and spoilage are preventable, and solutions are available. On the ground, among others, the Rockefeller Foundation is looking to tackle the problem through its YieldWise initiative.
What shouldn’t be overlooked is that the farmers are lacking in basic knowledge about the issues of post-harvest loss and how to tackle them.
This is where the Rockefeller Foundation’s partnership with Shamba Shape-Up, since 2014, comes in; East Africa’s leading agricultural TV program, and the only edutainment and research-based agricultural program in the region.
With an estimated reach of over 5 million viewers across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania each week, the program aims to provide audiences with free, accessible and easily understood information which they can adapt to fit their farm, and thereby increase their productivity, incomes and food security.
Covering topics from animal health through to agronomy and adapting to climate change, the premise of this show is simple—find a farmer in need of help, bring in a film crew and a number of experts from partner organizations, make necessary adjustments to management practices and facilities in three days, and leave the farm owner ‘shaped-up’.
Over a series of twelve episodes, the program advocated farming techniques to optimize harvests, whilst also educating on good storage methods to minimize post harvest loss of mangoes, as well as maize, green beans, cassava, green grams, potatoes and cowpea.
When we visited Demetria on her farm, we were accompanied by Abdullah, an expert from TechnoServe. He had a good look around her mango orchard and immediately observed that she needed to improve its upkeep by disposing of the rotten fruit littered all over the ground. Abdullah then ran Demetria through the importance of pruning and weeding often. By controlling the growth of a tree’s canopy, it eases the spraying of insecticides and fungicides, which then assists in pest management and also facilitates harvesting.
According to the post-broadcast survey of the program carried out in October 2016 by Gmaurich amongst viewers and non-viewers, similarly to Demetria, the majority of mango farmers, are not aware of keeping the area underneath and around the mango tree clean, thus harbouring an environment for pests.
The program repeatedly advised spraying and using flytraps. As a result, the research indicates that around two thirds of viewers have heard of fruit flies, close to 10 per cent more than non-viewers. Moreover, 60 per cent of viewers spray their trees to get rid of fruit flies but only seven per cent claim to have used flytraps. Nevertheless, significantly more non-viewers are not doing anything to combat Mango Seed Weevils compared to viewers; 35 percent compared to 27 percent. This highlights the program’s effectiveness in raising awareness.
Another crucial factor for curbing post harvest loss is ensuring proper harvesting techniques and storage solutions are followed. It is common for farmers to harvest mangoes by shaking the trees till the fruit drops. This in turn compromises the quality due to bruising as they fall to the ground and the fruits will no longer be suitable for sale.
Instead, mango farmers such as Demetria are advised to use a netted basket attached to a long, slender pole, which will enable easier and safer access to fruits high atop the trees. Once harvested, they should be stored on racks in the shade to dry and then packed in crates.
Shamba Shape Up has succeeded in getting farmers to recognise the problem and do something about it, however there are still farming practices that could be improved. The research points out the need for more information on market linkages in order to monetize mango farming since just over half of respondents, 51 percent, sell their mangoes.
The potential of media to affect change and safeguard sustainable food production is evidentiary. But only through continuous and collaborative efforts can we assist millions of small-holder farmers and ensure that the fruits of their labour do not go to waste.
The series usually airs in Kenya on Citizen TV at 1:30pm every Saturday & Sunday. In Uganda, the show airs on Sunday at 2:00pm on Urban TV, and in Tanzania, the show airs on Fridays at 6:30pm and Saturdays at 10:55am on ITV.