Maize farmers are preparing as the harvest season approaches in Tanzania’s Kondoa District. The weather has been good and most farmers here expect bumper yields.
Amina Hussein, a mother of four in Mnenia village, is testing a new way to store her harvest.
“In the past, we used to store our produce in normal bags, we would buy them three times a year because we faced the risk of losing harvests to pest infestation,” Hussein said. “But since the introduction of this new technology, using the hermetic storage bags, we are not incurring huge costs anymore to buy chemicals to preserve the maize.”
The bags keep grain dry and fresh, and keep bugs and mold out.
Amina, who is the chairperson of a local farmers’ association, says she used to spend precious cash on pesticides to preserve her maize. The new bags cut that cost.
About 85 percent of Tanzania’s population lives in rural areas and relies on agriculture for a living. Small-hold farmers constitute the majority of the population.
Here, post-harvest losses are a major concern, especially for grains, which form the base for nutrition and income for Tanzania’s rural communities.
Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture estimates that small farmers lose between 15 percent and 40 percent of their harvests each year to mold, mildew, bugs, rats and other causes, says Eliabu Philemon Ndossi, a senior program officer at the ministry.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste globally every year. That’s about a third of the food produced for human consumption around the world.
And post-harvest loss reduces the income of small-hold farmers by 15 percent.
Researchers from the University of Zurich and their partners are looking to cut those losses. Their project in Tanzania is looking at ways to help farmers keep more of their grain.
It’s a collaborative effort bringing together government agencies, businesses and international development organizations.
More than 1,000 small-scale farmers in two regions in central Tanzania are involved in the project, which in part uses air-tight and water-tight storage bags instead of normal plastic or cloth bags.
The study is conducted within a larger project that Swiss development agency Helvetas runs to help increase farm income.
But reducing losses is more than an issue of farmers’ income, says Rakesh Munankami, a project manager at Helvetas.
“If we can reduce post-harvest loss, there wouldn’t be any problem with the food security. This study is important because we would like to see what’s the impact at the broader level, how does it affect the price volatility of the crop as well as how does it affect the food security of the smallholder farmers,” he said.
And the study has proven a success. Initial findings show that improved on-farm storage sharply cut the number of food insecure households, said Michael Brander, one of the lead researchers from the University of Zurich.
“We are now one year into the study and the most astonishing finding so far is that we see that the number of people that go hungry has reduced by one third,” he said. “That’s especially astonishing because the intervention has worked very fast.”
Munanakami says he thinks the results can be replicated elsewhere. And the project’s partners hope that will encourage policy makers and aid organizations focus on preventing harvest losses.