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On postharvest losses

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By Dyson Mthawanji:

MALAWI’S STAPLE FOOD—Maize

Imagine harvesting enough maize which you are sure will take you to the next harvesting season, and you realise that the maize is no longer enough after some is lost along the way. Yes, this happens and it is a painful experience in farming.

Farmers Organisation Limited (FOL) says Malawi is this year expected to lose K100 billion in post-harvest waste in maize alone.

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The K100 billion projected loss is an equivalent of 14 percent of the 2018/19 national budget projected at K1.429 trillion.

This development emerges at a time second round crop estimates by the Ministry of Agriculture have indicated that Malawi will harvest a total of 3.35 million metric tonnes of maize this year. Currently, post-harvest losses in Malawi are seen at 25 percent.

Postharvest losses are some of the challenges that farmers in Malawi face. The dangerous part of it is that they happen silently and when the farmer notices it, it is too late and irreversible.

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According to research by the Catholic Development Commission of Malawi (Cadecom), postharvest losses for Malawi sometimes go as high as 600,000 tonnes.

This 2012 report by Cadecom titled “Postharvest Losses in Selected Crops in Malawi” observed that postharvest losses occur at each stage of the value chain of the selected crops in which the farmer is directly involved, from harvest to markets.

The report observed that the major causes of these losses include methods of postharvest handling and pests. The main pests that are responsible for postharvest losses include weevils, livestock, birds, large grain borers, wild animals such as elephants, rodents and thieves.

Postharvest losses are a constraint to food security not only in Malawi but in many African countries too. For instance, in Tanzania, poor storage of the harvests leads to loss of almost 40 percent of all grains costing the country $332 million in revenues every year.

Annual value of postharvest losses for grains alone in Sub-Saharan Africa exceeds $4 billion. Furthermore, estimates by the African Postharvest Losses Information System (Aphlis) indicate that crop losses in southern Africa amount to $1.6 billion per year or about 13.5 percent of the total value of the region’s annual grain production.

This is painful, not so? Up to 47 percent of $940 billion that needs to be invested to eradicate hunger in Sub- Saharan Africa by the year 2050 will be required in the post-harvest sector.

Although losses can occur at several points along value chains, a report titled “Postharvest Losses in Africa – Analytical Review and Synthesis” which was produced by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology showed that more loss happens at storage level. For example, 7.6 percent of stored maize is lost, while 10 percent of groundnuts is lost at storage level in Malawi.

The use of human power among smallholder farmers in Malawi contributes to post-harvest losses. The farmers who use human power in postharvest processes such as harvesting, shelling and threshing, and transporting are likely to lose some of the harvested crop in the process.

The World Bank’s 2011 report, entitled “Missing Food, the Case of Postharvest Grain Losses in Sub-Sahara Africa” confirmed that postharvest losses in staple food grain in Sub-Saharan Africa were mainly caused by poor postharvest handling practices throughout the value chain. For instance, late harvesting may result in 30 percent of groundnut loss to rodents and termites.

It is important that, when stakeholders brainstorm on achieving food security in Malawi and other African countries, the issue of postharvest losses should be highly considered as it is no longer minor in agriculture sector.

Increasing food production in isolation, without addressing postharvest losses, is inadequate in addressing food insecurity. Malawi should raise efforts in protecting the harvested crop.

Many farmers in the country primarily store their produce in woven sacks and some in outside traditional granaries. However, these two storage systems are not effective in reducing pest invasion.

Use of metal silos among smallholder farmers can help prevent post-harvest losses. Metallic silo protects the grain against weevils, water moisture, theft, rats, larger grain borer and termites. Metallic silo technology also helps to maintain quality of the grain for a long period of time.

Malawi’s staple food, maize, which is grown by 97 percent of farmers in the country, is important as it contributes to over 60 percent of national calorie intake. Therefore, the country should join hands in protecting this grain at all levels.

In line with the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy, Malawi government identifies reduction of postharvest losses as one way of enhancing agricultural productivity and food security.

Furthermore, the Southern African Development Community Regional Agricultural Policy (Rap) says in order to increase agricultural productivity, activities must aim at reducing pre and post-harvest losses. Rap says this requires the management of pests and diseases.

FOL National Sales and Marketing Manager, Ronald Chilumpha, said the country should take postharvest seriously.

“This loss should be a concern to government and stakeholders in agriculture as it comes on the back of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme which injected improved inputs into the smallholder farming sector,” said Chilumpha.

The agriculture sector is already facing many challenges such as soil fertility decline which is wide spread throughout Sadc due to a range of factors including depletion of soil nutrients that results from continuous cropping without replenishment. Therefore, it is costly to add another problem in the name of postharvest losses. There is need for action on this.

Through the country’s long-term development plan, Vision 2020, Malawi set to reduce postharvest losses to less than five percent. For this dream to come true, there is need to come up with low-cost postharvest technologies for smallholder farmers

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