SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Sesheke
SELL for less or lose everything, is usually a farmerâ€™s dilemma after every harvesting season.
After every successful farming season, there is a bumper harvest which entails increased supplies and consequently, low prices. It is not the best time for a farmer to sell, but, many have little or no choice at all.
Ideally a good harvest is supposed to provide famers and their familiesâ€™ food security until the next harvest but for the majority of farmers in Zambia this is not the case as most of them struggle with storage for their produce.
Most small-scale farmers store grains such as maize in sacks, placed in handmade sheds, not an ideal storage to keep them safe from pests.
A farmerâ€™s only viable option, is to sell the grain soon after the harvest or risk losing a significant portion of their crop to weevils, rats and other pests.
The larger grain borer and weevils often destroys up to a third of maize crop stored.
It is with this background that a Switzerland-based organisation called Vestergaard has come up with a first ever treated storage sack called Zerofly to prevent pest infestations.
Vestergaard technical consultant on food security Davide Signa said there were a lot of post-harvest losses due to different reasons.
“There are several critical points where the maize gets spoiled and these are losses that do not allow all the maize to reach the mouth of the consumer, the value chain from the field were the maize is harvested to the plate of the consumer is compromised due to storage challenges,â€ he said
He cited insect infestations as a major cause of losses incurred after the maize is harvested.
Mr Signa said insect infestations are challenges that have been faced by subsistence and commercial farmers.
He said the solution to post harvest losses was to use insecticide treated sacks which can actually prevent the penetration of the insects.
Unlike the regular and expensive fumigation conducted when maize is stored in sheds, the zerofly bag is treated in such a way that it can store fumigated maize for two years without need for any storage treatments.
However, the Ministry of Agriculture has also been busy researching on the best storage practices that farmers can adopt in preserving their maize as well other farm produce.
Ministry of Agriculture officers were on hand to collect samples of maize stored in Zerofly sacks and the ordinary sacks to assess the effectiveness of the treated sacks.
Mount Makulu Agriculture research station senior agricultural research officer Gilson Chipabika said the team was in Sesheke to conduct the evaluation of Zerofly bags in 12 warehouses were the maize had been stored for one year.
He explained that the warehouses contained Zerofly bags filled with fumigated maize, the other with un-fumigated maize, and also ordinary bags containing fumigated maize, the other with unfumigated maize.
Mr Chipabika observed that the ordinary bags were highly infested with pests but the situation was better with the fumigated maize.
He added that for the maize stored in the Zerofly bags, the situation was better though the research reviewed that there is need to fumigate the maize before packing it even in the treated sacks.
â€œBefore using a Zerofly bag, there is need for fumigation because even the unfumigated maize stored in the Zerofly bags was infested though the effect was not as bad as it is with the ordinary bags,â€ he said.
He said though there are other methods currently being used in the storage of maize, there is need to evaluate the cost effectiveness of Zerofly sacks.
He disclosed that the Zerofly experiment was being carried out in two regions namely region one which is Livingstone and Sesheke and region two, which is Lusaka and Kafue which have different temperatures adding that if the sack yield good results, they can be rolled out to other parts of the country.
Therefore, the research cannot be completed without consulting the end users, who are the farmers in this case.
Verstergaad has been working with farmers in all the regions who were given the responsibility of taking care of the warehouses were the experiments were being conducted.
Beatrice Naliwa 43, a mother of four is one of the small-scale farmers based in Sesheke, who has been observing the maize for the past one year since the research started.
Mrs Naliwa observed that the Zerofly sack was economical in that once fumigated maize was stored in it, was never affected by pests.
She reiterated that the Zerofly sack which was under experiment was good because it reduces the cost for farmers.
â€œInstead of buying the chemicals to preserve the maize when using an ordinary sack, Zerofly sacks are better as the maize will be intact until the time of sells but most importantly assures food security for a family and a country as whole because the maize is never affected by any insects,â€ she said
Mrs Naliwa said farming was a very profitable business which required proper harvesting and storage adding that post-harvest losses must be avoided at all costs.
In many developing countries, particularly in Africa, on-farm losses occurs at different stages of the farming process, though the most devastating loss is when the grain is being stored either for consumption or for sale when the price is more competitive.
SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Sesheke