Post-harvest technologies save food and raise farmer incomes

Post-harvest losses are high in Mozambique, with smallholder farmers losing an average 30 percent of their production annually. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says the bulk of crop loss occurs after harvest, before grains reach consumers.

Forced to sell their produce at low prices soon after harvest to save their crop from insect and rodent damage owing to poor storage facilities, farmers are often food insecure and in debt. Poor harvesting methods and storage facilities contribute to high crop losses and food waste in Africa.

But thanks to the adoption of smart post-harvest technologies, Mozambican soybean farmers are saving half the crop that would otherwise have been lost.

Fatima Mussa, from the Gurué District of Zambezia Province, north of Mozambique, no longer suffers the drudgery of winnowing her soybeans by hand after she acquired a threshing machine that sorts the grain efficiently and saves time. The end product is clean and fetches her a higher income at the market.

Mussa is one of the 20 women that own threshing machine under the AGRA project funded by the International Development Research Center (IDRC). To date, 32 threshers have been distributed in 12 locations in the Zambezi Province.

Launched in 2016, the Scaling-up Post-Harvest Management Innovations for Grain Legumes in Africa project is helping small holder farmers in Mozambique and Burkina Faso reduce post-harvest crop losses, a growing threat to food security.

Agriculture generates incomes for more than three million smallholder farmers in Mozambique who account for 95 percent of the country’s agricultural production. However, the lack of appropriate inputs, good agronomic practices, post-harvest and storage technologies means many farmers record low yields.

Cutting losses, increasing food security and income Home to over 230 million people suffering from chronic malnutrition, about 30 percent of the grains produced in sub-Saharan Africa are lost due to inadequate post-harvest management, lack of structured markets, inadequate storage and limited processing capacity.

Innovative technologies such as the airtight Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags are reducing post-harvest agricultural losses that would otherwise occur between the farm and the consumer.

The US$2.1 million AGRA/IDRC project has supported applied research to bring effective, field-tested innovations for reducing post-harvest loss of soybeans and cowpeas to thousands of smallholder farmers in Mozambique and Burkina Faso.

The project targets the scale-up innovative post-harvest technologies to reduce food losses in soybeans and cowpeas – both high-calorie cash crops with a growing market and income opportunities for smallholder farmers, women and youth. Mechanized threshers have the capacity to process 1.5 MT of soybeans or pigeon peas per hour and can thresh maize four times faster. It takes seven days to thresh a hectare of soybeans (2 to 3 MT) manually, and only a day when the same quantity is processed mechanically.

Dr. Innocent Butare, Senior Program Specialist at IDRC, visited the project in Gurue District to monitor progress and to assess the effectiveness of threshers and PICS bags. Many smallholder commercial farmers in Gurue who cultivate between three and 73 hectares of land are also seed growers and agro-dealers.

Of the targeted 5,000 smallholder farmers expected to adopt the post-harvest technologies, by December 2018, only 33 percent had access to mechanized threshing services. The demand for mechanized threshing service is influenced by production levels.

Research by COWI, a development consulting company in charge of the research component of the project, shows that the availability of threshers and soybeans yields dictated farmers’ willingness to adopt mechanical threshing over the manual method in 2016. While in 2017, it was the affordability and yields, which dictated the farmers’ adoption of mechanized threshing.

The study found that using a mechanized thresher not only saved time, but reduced the likelihood of harvest losses from shattering, rain and rotting. Mechanized threshers enabled farmers to have time for other economic activities, ultimately improving their quality of life. Assessment of the profitability suggests that with a machine life-span of six years, the first year of operation was not profitable, but in the subsequent years profit margins increased between 35 percent and 76 percent.

Taking technologies to scale The IDRC has recommended scaling-up the adoption of threshing machines for common beans and soya beans in Tanzania and Rwanda as well as in Mozambique and Malawi respectively.

The second phase of the project is to be expanded beyond the Gurué District. Plans are in the pipeline to manufacture threshing machines in Mozambique. Local manufacturing will reduce the cost of the machines, which can be modified to suit local conditions.

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