By AGRA Content Hub

AGRA President Dr. Agnes Kalibata with smallholder farmer, Mama Christina Metusala Mhema, at her maize storage facility

Anchored within the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) led by AGRA, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, the PIATA Tija Project promotes a shift to productive and profitable agriculture that creates food security and expanded economic opportunities.  

With a marked demand for improved seed, fertilizer and the adoption of good agricultural practices, farmers in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands are transitioning from subsistence practices to productive enterprises  that guarantee a commercial value beyond food security. However, smallholder farmers yearn for support through the provision of multiple services that promote both on- and off-farm activities and businesses through the provision of multiple services among them, input provision, production, storage and distribution, transportation, processing and marketing.

After attending a seminar organized by AGRA in 2018, Mama Christina Metusala Mhema needed no further persuasion to invest in farm inputs and post-harvest technologies. She owns an 8-acre (3.2 hectares) piece of land, most of it under maize. The harvest in the 2019 season was over and above her expectations, creating a demand for post-harvest storage solutions.

“My biggest challenge after meeting mine and my relative’s financial needs from the farm surplus was how to store the maize surplus,” recalls the widowed mother. “The PICS bags were in demand by farmers but many found the cost prohibitive.

In August 2019, when AGRA President Dr. Agnes Kalibata visited her home storage facility in Iringa, southern Tanzania, Mama Christina made a request to Dr. Kalibata to bring down the cost of post-harvest technologies like the PICS bag in order to encourage mass adoption by small-scale farmers like herself.

According to Mama Christina, PICS bags are the preferred storage method by nearly everyone in her village. “I wish I could store all my maize in them, but the cost is on the higher side at Tsh 5000 per piece, while the cost of the woven bag is as low as Tsh 1000, she says.

The acronym PICS stands for Purdue Improved Crop Storage. Developed in 2007 with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they were originally designed for storing cowpeas.  Today they are used to store maize, beans, and pulses.

Prof. Nuhu Hatibu, AGRA Regional Head (Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda), says research has proved that overall, maize stored in pics bags shows no signs of deterioration unlike in the woven bags.

“PICS provides an airtight seal for long-term pest-free storage,” he adds. The bags are an effective alternative to chemical pesticides for stored grain. They consist of two liners of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and an outer layer of woven polypropylene.

AGRA with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, first introduced three portable storage solutions in Iringa and Njombe in 2014 to mitigate post-harvest losses – these were cocoons, metal silos, and hermatic bags (PICS and AgroZ bags).

In the same year, Tanzania, especially the southern highlands registered a bumper harvest for maize and storage was a challenge. Huge consignments of maize were stored outside houses and in some cases even under trees.

The portable storage solutions were supported by AGRA to provide short term storage needs for smallholder farmers and both the private and public sectors were involved to make the program work at a commercial level for sustainability.

Some of the companies in Tanzania that partnered with AGRA at the time to manufacture modern storage bags included PeePee Tanzania Limited (PICS bags) and A to Z Textile Mills (Agro Z hermetic bags);

Mr. Ladislaus Ngingo, a senior official at PeePee Tanzania Limited, notes that notwistanding that PICS bags were new to the market, by the end of 2015, the company had sold about 300,000 pieces.

“The uptake by the end of 2017 had increased to a million bags within Tanzania. In 2018 we sold over a million bags and a further one million exports,” he notes. “The business is highly viable.”

In Iringa, the pricing has remained stable at Tsh 5000 due to the presence of established agro -dealers with established supply chains. In other regions, the bags sometimes are price even higher- at Tsh 6000 -Tsh 8000.

“The challenge is reaching the end-users at an affordable cost. Tanzania is geographically vast and the cost of supplying to remote villages is on the higher side,” he notes.  

Those who buy from the company at wholesale prices, use a great deal of time and money at before they reach the end-users, hence the high price passed on to smallholder farmers.

This can be solved by having more agro-dealers selling the item closer to the people.

“In Iringa Region, hermetic bags sales have been on a steady increase despite farmer demands for the prices to be reviewed downward notes Magreth Aidan Sanga, an agro-input dealer based in Iringa Town.

By Anthony Muchoki