When food storage can become food security

Metal silos in Malawi.

Metal silos in Malawi.

An FAO report in (2004), estimates that a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted across the global food system. There is an urgent need to efficiently store and preserve food, if we are to achieve food security in the continent.

The traditional storage techniques and preservation methods used by African farmers are small-scale, with a capacity of up to 2 – 3 tonnes. Many of these techniques have severe limitations, particularly in terms of durability and protection against rodent, insect and  moisture damage (FAO, 1986). African farmers need to make use of efficient food storage and preservation methods if food security goals are to be achieved across the continent.

Food security is not the only advantage to be gained from efficient storage systems. Grain storage on smallholder farms in Africa can be a form of savings account, and can increase the farmer’s income from the sales of stored seed when other crops are out of season. If farmers in Africa can store and preserve their food efficiently they can sell them over a longer period of time, reducing the cycles of surplus and scarcity connected to the seasons.

Silos and solar dryers making food security that much easier

Of the many techniques of storage and processing available, the most efficient techniques that are suitable for the African market are metal silos for storage and solar dryers for preservation. Metal silos are used to store grains so that they are not left uncovered, thereby reducing the amount of grain spoiled by rain exposure and pest penetration (Proctor, 1994). Solar dryers on the other hand, helps process and preserve meat, fruit and vegetables efficiently so that they don’t rot. Dryers reduces the need for complex storage and simultaneously increase food safety by removing the water content and associatied contamination. (Heinz, 1995).

Metal silos, though usually considered too expensive for smallholder farmers in Africa to buy individually and thus only useful for storing large quantities of food, have proven useful on small scales as well. Farmers Bolivia, for example, have had long-term success with metal silo storage; 96% of the farmers who received silos improved their food security, reduced waste, and maintained the quality of the grain. The FAO also succeeded in introducing household metal silos in 16 countries across Asia, Africa, and South America (FAO, 2008).

Solar dryers are an efficient preservation technique in Africa because they can be used with all types of food (grain, fruit, vegetables, meat, and even cash crops) and they do not require extra energy from a fuel powered engine or battery. Drying in general is a fairly common practice in many parts of Africa, but it is typically done by spreading out the crop on the ground.  This method has many problems such as spoilage due to rain, wind, dust, insects, etc.

Farmers can make solar dryers out of a variety of different materials, taking advantage of whatever is available at the time. They dry food in a clean, hygienic environment that reduces space requirements. They also require very little labour (about one hour a day or less) and yet can greatly increase the amount of high-quality food available.

Even a small price can be too much for smallholders

Most farmers in Africa are smallholders who have very little money to spare. They are often heavily in debt and cannot invest in these efficient storage and processing techniques. Providing low-cost means of preserving and storing food that will make Africa achieve food security and also increase their farmers’ incomes is therefore  essential.

According to Balakrishnan (2006), solar dryers cost about $34 per unit of space (A typical 50 kg solar drying unit costs $1700). However since finance and training on the efficient use of the units is a challenge, it would be better managed by farmers’ cooperatives instead of individual farmers.

Each cooperative could own solar dryers and silos that would be shared among its members. This way, it becomes easier to purchase the units because the farmers can pool their resources. Each cooperative should have greater access to both needed capital and markets and would be fully trained on the use of the units, thereby increasing the efficiency of each dryer or silo (FAO, 2008).

Both metal silos and solar dryers can be adapted to fit a variety of local conditions. Metal silos can be constructed locally, similar to water tanks. Sheet metal and other materials needed for construction could be provided and subsidized by government agencies or the local private sector. Solar dryers require very little infrastructure beyond the cost of the unit itself, and can be beneficial to farms of any size.

Applying these suggestions and techniques will not only improve farmer’s incomes in Africa, but will indeed put Africa on track fpr achieving food security!

Blogpost by Kalu Samuel, a social media reporter for AASW6.

Photo: E. Gerald (FAO)

Categories: AASW6, Innovation | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

About kalusam

I am a graduate of Agriculture with options in Soil Science and Meteorology from Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike- Nigeria. I am the lead Agribusiness consultant at Agritechnovate Solutions Entreprises. I have underwent several trainings, conferences and studies in Agriculture and entrepreneurship with University of Maryland, U.S.A , IHAV Foundation Conference, Association of Africa Business School (AABS) Agric business Launch to mention but a few. As a young farmer and entreprenuer with a passion for research and writing, I use this blog to share my experiences as well as inform Youths of the opportunities available in Agriculture and Entrepreneurship. Follow me on twitter: @kalusamanya Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kalusam Skype: kalusam WHatsapp: +2347036931636

One thought on “When food storage can become food security

  1. Thank you Kalu Samuel for focusing the discussion on specifics like “savings account” and “If farmers in Africa can store and preserve their food efficiently.”

    Protecting harvest, especially seed, against Post-harvest losses is more meaningful than merely increasing production. Poor Post-harvest management practices waste harvested crops — and the inputs, especially disadvantaged labor that contributed to producing the wasted crop.

    Ertharin Cousin (executive director of the UN World Food Programme in Rome) states that “tackling post-harvest loss is not rocket science. It does not require technological breakthroughs or years of high level scientific research as do some of the other challenges we face.”

    Farmers cooperating to capture the benefits of bulk handling is a concept so proven it is common sense and not technology. So consider mobile storage bins;
    1. sack friendly, but designed for bulk handling dry and clean cereals;
    2. work for less than trucks and wagons which are too expensive to park and store on;
    3. move (when they are empty) using integral wheels to where they are needed, unlike warehouses that may be empty because of diverse politics, shifting land ownership or climate change;

    Since small holder farmers have no land tenure, they cannot build stationary storage and must often sell at a loss. Mobile storage is like tenure, Harvest tenure. Harvest tenure is the growers practical ability to market what they grow. Small holders with Harvest tenure sell for better prices, at ready markets, more times, pay back the principal plus interest, deliver more high-quality crops, reduce malnutrition and wasted labor.

    Only countries that are challenged to feed themselves rely on sacks stacked in warehouses.

    Thank you for the chance to comment, please Google “NeverIdle Farms and Consulting (Ghana)” to see, hear and read more.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s