Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe

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Farmers must avoid post-harvest losses

Farmers must avoid post-harvest losses
Grain, which is considered dry enough, is loaded into a temporary holding structure until threshing time

Grain, which is considered dry enough, is loaded into a temporary holding structure until threshing time

Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
That Zimbabwe is headed for a bumper harvest after receiving favourable rains in the 2016 /17 agricultural season is a fact.

Farmers can go on top of the mountain to claim the season as quite phenomenal, as they have put their shoulders behind the wheel to produce from the land.

The season has been a revelation, with high prospects that Zimbabwe is back on track in as far as food self-sustenance is concerned.

To be highly commended for a very productive season are stakeholders in the agricultural industry, including Government.

Government made it a point that Zimbabwe forgets the lean years of the past.

Barring challenges faced, that is, shortages of inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals, among others, the crops remain in good condition.

The fall armyworm, which threatened the yields at some point, should be overcome.

Input schemes to support the season have been highly successful.

Farmers under the special maize import substitution programme, known as Command Agriculture, look forward to better yields compared to previous seasons.

Some believe they will surpass the five tonnes per hectare target set by Government.

Other crops such as finger millet, pearl millet and sweet potatoes, have been quite successfully grown across Zimbabwe.

There has also been an increase in the four major grain crops grown in the country.

Farmers planted 1,2 million hectares of maize, compared to 773 000ha last year, a 61 percent increase, while sorghum registered an increase of 118 percent from 86 000ha last year to 188 430ha this year.

Pearl millet registered an increase from 56 000ha last year to 124 088ha, an increase of 120 percent.

Communal farmers planted 724 735ha of maize, while A1 farmers planted 192 703ha; A2 farmers planted 152 227ha, old resettlement 114 991ha, and small scale commercial farmers planted 46 234ha, while peri-urban farmers planted 12 734ha.

Groundnuts registered a 37 percent increase from 151 000ha last year to 206 000ha, sunflower plantings have increased by 83 percent from 1 988 hectares last year to 3 657ha.

Cotton farmers this year planted 155 000ha, compared to 105 000ha last season.

The packages availed to farmers this season include the perennial Presidential Input Scheme, which supported 827 000 rural households.

The programme further availed 10 000 tonnes of urea to the farmers in rural areas.

The Command Agriculture programme was introduced to reduce grain imports, with farmers receiving seed, fertilisers, chemicals and machinery.

Under the programme, Government expects two million tonnes of maize.

There are genuine fears that the commendable achievements could be destroyed if farmers do not engage in proper post-harvest strategies.

The red flags were raised when the Grain Marketing Board revealed recently that only three of its 12 storage facilities countrywide were functional.

Reports have also indicated that the GMB has over 80 depots, 12 of which are equipped with silos designed to hold up to 500 000 tonnes of grain.

It has been discovered that the silos are crumbling due to years of neglect and repair, rehabilitation and maintenance would require over $50 million.

The Lion’s Den silo near Chinhoyi, Mashonaland West, is the world’s third largest, with a holding capacity of 104 000 tonnes.

But questions have been asked on what would happen to the bumper harvest the country is expecting after the summer agricultural season.

According to scholars Jaspreet Aulakh and Anita Regmi, in their paper on “Harvest Food Losses Estimation”, food availability and accessibility can be increased by increasing production, improving distribution, and reducing the losses.

They argue that reduction of post-harvest food losses is a critical component of ensuring future global food security.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation also predicts that about 1,3 billion tonnes of food are globally wasted or lost per year.

Aulakh and Regmi add that reduction in these losses would increase the amount of food available for human consumption and enhance global food security.

They further note that food production is being challenged by limited land, water and increased weather variability due to climate change.

“To sustainably achieve the goals of food security, food availability needs to be also increased through reductions in the post-harvest process at farm, retail and consumer levels,” Aulakh and Regmi say.

“Food losses do not merely reduce food available for human consumption, but also cause negative externalities to society through costs of waste management, greenhouse gas production, and loss of scarce resources used in their production.”

In his presentation to the media on grain storage technology and practices in Zimbabwe, Professor Brighton Mvumi of the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering, said frequent drought and market liberalisation has increased in the country, but post harvest management skills are limited.

He noted that among trends in facilities used for smallholder grain storage in Zimbabwe include traditional grain storage technologies such as pole and mud, including the predominant use of synthetic pesticides.

Prof Mvumi described post-harvest losses as the cumulative weight losses from production from each link in the chain, including all grain not fit for human consumption, but excludes post harvest losses from processing such milling.

These also include, according to Prof Mvumi, from market to storage, transport to market, farm storage, transport to farm, shelling platform drying, harvesting and field drying.

“In 2012, on a total cereal production of about one million tonnes, losses amounted to nearly 0,17 million tonnes or about 17 percent of production,” he said.

Prof Mvumi noted some post-harvest challenges such as lack of clear policy support and bias towards production aspects such as documented strategy and resource allocation.

Lack of trained personnel at various levels, including post harvest scientists and practitioners, extension workers and farmers, are some of the causes of such losses, he added.

Also of note, according to Professor Mvumi, was the lack of up-to-date training and extension material.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation’s deputy director for research and standards Engineer Tirivangani Koza said there were a number of strategies to ensure that produce is properly harvested and stored.

“Firstly, there is awareness where we need to concientise farmers on the need to prepare for the harvest, especially A1 and A2 farmers who have increased area under crop due to the inputs availed this season,” he said.

“Secondly, there is training on crop post harvest practices, techniques and available options from field drying, harvest, transport to homestead, homestead drying, harvesting, shelling, cleaning, chemical application, storage and transport to markets.”

Eng Koza called for machine harvesting, where combine harvesters are being identified and assessed for provision of harvesting services to farmers.

“Those that require repairs need to be repaired before harvesting,” he said. “Combine harvesters should have maize and wheat headers to harvest maize in May and June and then winter wheat in September and October.

“Combine harvesters are designed to harvest dry grain with moisture content near 13 percent to avoid need for drying. Maize at about 20-22 percent moisture content can be harvested, but you need drying facilities.”

Eng Koza said moisture content of between 15 to 16 percent is ideal for combine harvesting.

“At below 15 percent, grain will be dry and crack losses will occur and increase during harvesting,” he said. “Combine settings and adjustments on the picking and threshing mechanisms are very critical to avoid losses during harvesting.”

Few working dryers are available around Zimbabwe, Eng Koza said, adding that some private companies offer drying services, but their capacity may be limited, especially with the expected increase in production this season.

“Early harvest followed by artificial drying can facilitate early planting of winter wheat where there is irrigation,” he said. “Smallholders use bag storage mostly. Traditional granaries are not secure and do not offer adequate protection against rodents, insects and fungi, as they are usually poorly maintained.

“Alternative storage facilities being promoted by the Department of Mechanisation include improved brick granary, metal silos and super grain bags (metal silos and super-grain bags are hermetic and do not require grain to be treated, they control insects by prevention of air movement as they are completely sealed).”

For villagers and small-scale farmers, Eng Koza said training on new methods that reduce post-harvest losses was important.

“Most rural households rely on farming for income, therefore, reduction in grain loss which can be sold for income is helpful,” he said. “Better storage can act as a bank, whereby a farmer can hold on to the grain and market later when prices are better and realise more money — that is if the farmer has good storage facilities.

“Exposure in terms of demonstrations on the use of improved storage methods is also important, while the use of all types of available modes of communicating new ideas and technologies can help.”

On reports that most of GMB silos are dysfunctional, Eng Koza said there must be deliberate effort to rehabilitate them.

He said farmers should anticipate such challenges as labour, ahead of the harvesting period.

“There is need to have capital or other means of hiring more labour, equipment and tools,” said Eng Koza. “Farmers need to prepare the necessary tools and equipment for harvesting

“Inadequate combine harvesting capacity is also anticipated and there should be an increase in harvesting capacity by repairing combines and having skilled operators. Combine capacity can be increased if more shifts are done per day and this requires more operators.”

Eng Koza said delayed harvesting leads to crop losses in the field due to lodging, theft, rodents, wild animals, moulds, insects and birds.

“Early harvesting is, therefore, always recommended as rain showers are likely to fall during harvesting and farmers must be prepared for them.

“Small harvests can be protected by covering with a large tent or plastic sheeting. Large-scale farmers need a bigger space for off-loading harvested grain if it is not to be transported to GMB straight after harvest, such as a big shed with a roof.”

Eng Koza said adequate transport should be available for combine harvesters to off-load into, such as trucks or tractor-drawn trailers, as an average size machine can harvest 10-15ha a day.

“Depending on the size of the combine harvester, combine bin capacities range from three to eight tonnes and it must off load when the bin is full,” he said.

Eng Koza said post-harvest losses occur at all stages along the harvesting chain and there is need to train rural artisans to manufacture metal silos and builders to construct improved granaries.

He urged farmers to be wary of the larger grain borer pests.

The larger grain borer is a primary storage pest of maize which makes neat round holes and produces lots of dust when it attacks the crop.

The pest also causes damage to a wide range of food commodities and will bore into non-food materials such as leather, plastic, soap and wood.

Losses due to the larger grain borer include loss of weight of grain, quantitative loss, and loss of quality of grain, which is qualitative, nutritional and economic loss to the farmers.

Management of the larger grain borer includes chemical control such use of fumigants, grain protectants and cultural control like timely harvesting of maize.

Other measures include Post- Harvest Farm Hygiene, use of resistant and tolerant varieties and biological control such as manipulation of beneficial organism, with the goal of reducing pest population to economically acceptable levels.

Farmers can also use bio-agents such as pathogens, parasites, parasitoids and predators.

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