Effective Grain Storage Key to Food Security

Currently, one of the main global challenges faced is how to ensure food security for an ever increasing world population. At the heart of the engine that drives the world’s food security agenda are smallholder farmers. In many African countries, agriculture production accounts for over 70% of the labour force, 20% of agribusiness and over 25% of GDP, according to the Africa Economic Report (2016). Agriculture remains largely traditional and is concentrated in the hands of smallholders.

The reliance of most African economies on agriculture production makes them particularly vulnerable if smallholder production is affected. Zimbabwe is no stranger to this scenario. According to Zimbabwe’s Food Security Outlook (April 2016), the national cereal deficit of 645,000 MT was mostly filled with formal imports of maize between April 2015 and March 2016, of which nearly all came from Zambia. Many factors including climate change and post harvest loses are to blame for unacceptably high deficit of maize cereal which is the staple of Zimbabwe and losses of massive quantities of food due to spoilage and infestations before they reach consumers.

Post-harvest losses are a life changing and high cost to pay for small holder farmers in Zimbabwe. The cost is even greater for small holder farmers who have no safety net to buffer them from this livelihood risk.  A report on post harvest management (FAO, 2012) indicates that, “Post- harvest losses, [are] estimated at 20 to 30 percent in storage alone [and] can be as high as 40 percent when including field, transportation, handling and processing losses. In most communal areas of Zimbabwe, grain production is characterized by one year of good production followed by two or three years of deficit. That is why long-term post- harvest storage is so important.”

Because of the risk of losing significant sale value to their harvested crops, smallholder farmers have little wriggle room and are forced to sell their produce soon after harvesting, when the price is at its lowest. Fortunately in Zimbabwe, the Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) is doing something to protect small holder farmers from this risk. Through Peak Trading, one of the LFSP Implementing Partners, farmers in the low temperature areas of Guruve district are benefiting from a post harvest grain management project that focuses on storage, information and logistics for their grain buying business.

The project is benefiting maize, sugar bean and soya farmers who are at a risk of post harvest losses due in large part to a lack of robust storage facilities that keep out the post harvest “agents of destruction” ranging from weevils to rats. Peak Trading has introduced the SILO (Storage Information for Logistics Output) model approach to empower small holder grain farmers through training on how to store their grain correctly in hermetic silos. Peak Trading’s “SILO intervention” approach comes in 2 models. The first benefits individual farmers involved in contract farming of soya, mung bean and maize. The second model benefits the whole community involved in   contract farming.

Through use of warehouse receipt system farmers who are not able to afford to buy silos are now storing their grain in Peak Trading silos and access agriculture inputs from the company using their grain as collateral. This arrangement and model is ensuring the availability of high quality grain for farmers throughout the year and and is helping them obtain premium prices from sales when the grain is out of season.

Since the inception of the project in 2015, seventy (70) farmers are benefiting from this arrangement in Guruve district and are demonstrating mutually beneficial relationships between the private sector and smallholder farmers and communities. Notable is the synergy between other LFSP actors like World Vision and Mercy Corps. An agreement with these agencies has also been reached to overlap operations with the sister LFSP Agriculture Productivity and Nutrition (APN) component implementing the ENTERPRIZE interventions which are now used as joint demo sites for hermetic silos promoted within the Community Grain Bank Model.

This synergy is expected to increase the overall impact and benefit of the projects to beneficiaries as well as boost LFSP visibility however, there are concerns about whether grain surpluses will be available for storage. Peak Trading and Mercy Corps are currently in the process of convincing banks to avail financial opportunities to support this model to community development. This will enable farmers to access much needed financial resources to support other aspects of their farming businesses and make profit in addition to meeting their livelihood needs.

These LFSP interventions are helping to revitalize Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector by targeting the smallholder farmers and contributing to food security in the country.

Facts about the hermetic silo

  • Hermetic storage (HS) technology is a very effective alternative to other methods of post harvest storage that protect agriculture produce from insects and vermin.
  • Hermetic storage involves creating an oxygen-depleted, carbon dioxide-enriched atmosphere in the silo and this promotes longevity of the seed under storage.
  • The metal silo can be fabricated in different sizes for small holder farmers, 100 kg–3000 kg holding capacity by trained local artisans, with the corresponding prices of $35 to $375, and may cost above $375 for larger scale production storage.
  • The hermetic silo is environmentally safe and its use eliminates the need for chemical treatments in preserving grain and seed.

For more information about this article, contact Daniel Matimba, Palladium’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Knowledge Management Manager, +263 4 290 6821 or e-mail: daniel.matimba@thepalladiumgroup.com

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