Patrick Njenga harvests Irish potatoes by free hand or sticks to reduce injuries that lead to spoilage. Photo by Laban Robert.
With reports showing that one in every five kilos of food produced in Africa goes to waste during and after harvest, Kiambu County farmer has resorted to sticks in harvesting Irish potatoes to reduce reducing injuries.
Harvesting tuber and root crops with hoes and other sharp objects not only reduces their shelf-life but also slashes the marketability in half.
“Cut Irish potatoes fetch half the price. Farmers do not want stay with them for long because by the fourth day after harvesting, they start depreciating in quality; and with a jembe or hoe, about one in three out of 10 potatoes may be scratched or cut. That is why I started using sticks in harvesting,” Patrick Njenga said.
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture post-harvest Researcher Adebayo Abass recently said Tanzania that inappropriate technologies for harvesting, transportation, storage and processing lead to spoilage of food.
When, for example a root tuber is cut, the flesh is exposed to pests and other germs, which initiate and accelerate the rate of spoilage.
If a two-kilogramme tin costs Sh80 at Kimende, near Njenga’s home, spoilt pieces in the same container may fetch between Sh30 and Sh40 when sold to hotels and other immediate consumers.
This is devaluation by more than half, yet the product has consumed factors of production for more than three months, the farmer said.
Going by the overall research, at least eight 110kg bags will be spoilt out of the total 40 harvested, marking the start of losses from an acre. Currently, a 110kg bag sells at Sh3,000 in Nairobi. The loss translates to Sh12,000 for the eight sacks instead of Sh24,000.
“Potatoes are grown on ridges. Demolishing them by hand is easy because the raised soil is still loose. A stick helps in case the tubers have got past the normal soil level, which happens less often,” he said.
While Irish and sweet potatoes may be edible within the first five days after harvest even with the cuts, cassava is more vulnerable. It starts to spoil within 48 hours if harvested with cuts.