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Manage post-harvest losses in maize to ensure food security

Thursday July 18 2019

Maize farmers

Workers pack maize into sacks after drying, at Eldoret Grains Limited in Uasin Gishu County on January 18, 2019. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

DONATUS NJOROGE
By DONATUS NJOROGE
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Once again, Kenya finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. A food crisis script that has become an annual ritual is slowly unfolding. Plans by the Ministry of Agriculture to import 12.5 million 90-kilogramme bags of maize casts doubts on the government’s commitment to one of the Big Four Agenda: Food security. Many are now wondering what went wrong and whether there could be lessons from neighbouring countries like Uganda and Tanzania.

FARM TO FORK

Researchers from Tegemeo Institute estimated an average production of 40 million bags of maize against an estimated annual demand of 45—50 million bags per year.

Even as we import to cover the deficit, statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that post-harvest loss in maize is close to 30 per cent.

Kenya imports maize in excess of Sh42 billion in foreign currency, but ironically in 2017, for example, farmers lost close to Sh29.6 billion to post-harvest losses, mainly due to spillage during handling, transportation, processing, marketing, rotting, aflatoxin and weevil attacks.

These losses are greater than the entire 2017 harvest for the annual short rain season. How much money can we save as a country if we manage post-harvest losses?

Where are we as a country four years after the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Africa Enhanced Agricultural Growth and Transformation? According to the 2018 Economic Survey, Kenya continues to experience losses as a result of poor storage, handling and rejection.

As the country prepares to mark the 2019 World Food Day, we need not lose sight of the government agenda of attaining a food waste target of 15 per cent by 2022.

What this means is that food security efforts by the government may remain a pipe dream unless adequate measures are instituted to manage food loss and waste that occurs at various points from farm to fork.

To achieve this, there is need of an integral approach from the country’s scientists, scholars, farmers, policymakers and investors to adopt innovative ways to reduce the food wastage and losses in the value chain for long term consumption and food production.

EMERGING ECONOMIES

As the world grapples with climatic problems, any amount of food harvested from the farm, sold at supermarkets and bought in households is of value and should be protected to avoid spoilage as its presence contributes to improved food security and can save a life.

Ms Immaculate Wanjiku, a maize farmer in Rift Valley, pointed out that her 10 bags of 90 kilos were destroyed by weevils last season as she waited for better prices.

“I just sold all my stock at a throwaway price to a broker, only for prices to improve a month later,” Peter Mwangi, another farmer in Kitale said.

This is only a pinch of the many tribulations facing grain farmers in the country.

Introduction of the Grain Warehouse Receipting (WHR) System could be one piece of the puzzle to bring order into the sector.

Post-harvest credit, in the form of warehouse receipting finance, has proven to be a critical component for agricultural sector growth in emerging economies.

The system creates a buffer against uncertainties in supply and demand, and takes advantage of economies of scale, and lower purchasing and transportation costs.

It improves the post-harvest operations in the grain sector to increase smallholder farmers’ capacity to get additional finance to invest in all the necessary inputs because the receipts issued are acceptable to banks as collateral for loans.

CHAOTIC MARKET

It’s no new concept, agricultural commodity exchanges have been practised for centuries with immense success.

In 1848, a group of businessmen who wanted to bring order to the Midwest’s chaotic grain market came together to form The Chicago Board of Trade. It’s now one of the busiest commodities exchanges in the world.

The government should speed up adoption and implementation of the Warehouse Receipts System Bill if the country wants to achieve its goals on food security.

Finally, food loss and wastage is a global challenge and the country needs a collective tracking mechanism to identify areas prone to losses and adopt technologies and other approaches to curb this challenge, otherwise we will end up spending too many resources to produce foods that end up as trash while millions of people go hungry every day.

If food security goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right in the country.

Mr Njoroge is the Global Innovation through Science and Technology 2019 First Prize winner. [email protected]

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