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Post-Harvest Technologies: Questions from the Farmers

Earlier this month I traveled to Babati, located 200km away from Arusha Tanzania. It was an enjoyable drive, with the fresh air and tranquility in the village, farmers weeding their crop fields in anticipation of a good harvest, animals grazing, children walking to school and small business entrepreneurs selling their merchandise. I was warmly welcomed by the manager of the Gendi Rural Cooperative Society, then we joined about 200 farmers, government representative, private sector and the NGO partners in their well-maintained warehouse. There my eyes befell a huge 50 metric ton canvas that seemed to occupy a third of the room—I quickly realize it must be the hermetic cocoon that I have read about.

Today is very significant—we will unveil some post-harvest loss reducing technologies, distributed to farmers under The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative. The Foundation recently supported the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to set up 10 demonstrations with the capacity of 1,425 metric tons of cereals to raise awareness on different post-harvest loss reducing technologies in Tanzania. Today, we will unveil cereals stored in hermetic cocoon, hermetic bags, metal silos, and polypropylene storage bags—cereals that were stored six months ago—and we will assess the efficiency and efficacy of the technologies.

The ceremony begins with a training session conducted by manufacturers of various technologies–Intermech Engineering TZ Ltd, (fabricators of metal silos); A to Z Textile Mills (Agro Z hermetic bags); PeePee Tanzania Limited (PICS bags) and GrainPro Inc (hermetic cocoon).

During the training, farmers are given an opportunity to ask questions, and I am impressed by the diversity of their queries: What is the germination rates of the seeds stored in these technologies? How much do they cost? Where can we get them? Do they come with a warranty? Their cost is too highcan the government reduce the value added tax? Is there access to credit/finance to facilitate our buying them? Who will repair them in case they fall apart? Is there a certification to ensure all other upcoming technologies are vetted by regulatory bodies? Which hermetic bag is most effective? What is their expected lifetime? What is my return on investment? Can you assemble the metal silos inside my house since a fully assembled one cannot get in through the narrow door of my house? And on and on.

“Seeing is indeed believing–there is a lot of excitement in the room, and I can hear the farmers whisper to each other…”

After a myriad of African ululations–we all circle around the technologies. A volunteer is asked to open the 100kg PICS bag containing beans. The moment of truth is here—not a single weevil, the beans are very clean, six months later. The second PICS bag containing maize is opened and it is also super clean, third bag is a polypropylene storage bag containing maize treated with pesticide powder. As soon as it is opened, weevils start to crawl out. I also observe a few farmers beginning to sneeze in reaction to vestiges of the pesticide powder. The metal silo is then opened and clean maize spills out. Finally, the hermetic cocoon is unzipped and the weevils are all dead and the maize grain is clean.

Seeing is indeed believing–there is a lot of excitement in the room, and I can hear the farmers whisper to each other—kutoka sasa, nitatumia hizi vifukofuko (from today on, I will use these hermetic bags).

At the same time, the M&E officers are busy jostling between the curious farmers to scoop samples of the grains to monitor various parameters such as moisture and oxygen levels; another set of researchers are conducting farmer group discussions to get feedback on the technologies.

Later on, I visited Mr. Barnabas, a 70-year-old farmer and a member of this cooperative society who lives a few blocks from the unveiling site. He is one of the early adopters of PICS bags and has abandoned the traditional kihenge (storage made from mud and dung).

“I do not want to say much, but just let you see for yourself how my maize is in great condition, see how clean it is, they have no cracks, they have the right moisture content, and I do not have to use chemicals anymore,” he told us, holding a handful of his stored harvest or our viewing.

Farmer showing maize stored in PICS bags, and kihenge
Left: A farmer showing maize in PICS bags. Right: Grain stored in a kihenge (a traditional grain storage)

Farmers lose 30-40 percent of their grains to pests (weevils and others) during storage, and the larger grain borer can destroy 100 percent of the stored grain in a few months. As I end my field trip, the brilliant questions they raised replay in my subconsciousness and increase my confidence that the demonstration projects have contributed immensely to raising awareness of existing technologies and that farmers will adopt these technologies and reduce food loss in the African continent and improve theirs and consequently millions of lives.

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