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How to ensure safe grain storage

ZAMBIAN smallholder farmers lose an average of 25 percent of the total grain crop yield from harvesting onwards especially in the production

of the staple grain crop of maize. Post-harvest grain losses at this rate have potential to compromise food security and cause hunger.
Grain losses occur due to degradation of both the grain quality and quantity. Post-harvest grain losses at harvesting are partly a result of harvesting at an inappropriate time when the grain moisture content is not at optimum. To ensure maize and indeed other grains are harvested at the right time, the farmer can simply mix a few grains with dry table salt in a dry bottle. If the salt sticks to the grains after shaking, then the grain is not yet adequately dry and ready for harvest.
Grain is also lost during harvesting due to poor harvesting methods and pest infestation. Effective supervision is therefore critical at this stage. Both the transportation and the drying processes may contribute to losses if not properly managed. The farmer must invest in ideal mechanical threshing or shelling methods otherwise crude manual methods are also a source of grain losses.
Pests and diseases attack grain in storage, hence the farmer needs to invest in chemicals and proper storage facilities. However, apart from being expensive, chemicals may affect the health of the consumer. Grain spillage and contamination during storage are common and further reduce yields.
Fortunately, there are new packaging and storage technologies that do not require the use of chemicals. To avoid grain losses, farmers can do well to invest in these simple technologies that are available from most agricultural input suppliers. These technologies also exclude the use of costly storage chemicals that have potential to compromise the health of consumers.
Metal silos and Purdew Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags are improved grain storage technologies that farmers can afford. Made out of galvanised metal, a metal silo is air tight. It therefore excludes pests like weevils, rats and termites. The pests that enter the silo get suffocated. The metal silo also protects the grain from getting soaked.
PICS bags consist of two layers of plastic bags that are surrounded by a layer of common bag material or woven polypropylene. The bag maintains an atmosphere deprived of oxygen in which insects cannot survive if packed and tied properly. Grain can stay in PICS bags without deterioration up to a period of two years. PICS bags are available in 50kg and 100kg capacity at a competitive price of between K10-K18 from reputable agricultural input suppliers. The farmer can avoid other storage costs and directly store grain in the PICS bags.
These two safe methods of grain storage enable the farmer to keep the grain viable for a long period without the risk of deterioration in which time the farmer can also bargain for a good price without being desperate.
Farming is both a business and a livelihood, hence farmers must ensure that they avoid unnecessary grain wastage that occurs during the post-harvest period after incurring costs during crop production. Farmers should therefore invest in good post-harvest technologies that preserve the grain and avoid unnecessary losses.
The author is an agricultural and rural development expert.