By Jolene Njambi
The Rockefeller Foundation through its Yieldwise Foodloss Initiative is showing farmers how to reduce post-harvest mango losses by up to 30 per cent by building simple, home-made, zero-energy cooling brick chambers.
Working with Technoserve, the initiative has so far trained over 20,000 farmers on how to create and use the chambers to increase the shelf life of their mangoes.
According to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), farmers are typically losing 40 per cent to 45 per cent of their crop primarily due to poor harvesting and post-harvest handling techniques. A majority of rural farmers lack proper storage facilities, and with fruits ripening at the same time of the year, many sell their mangoes at throwaway prices and are left with many unsold mangoes to rot, cutting their income by an estimated 15 per cent.
“The main challenge that we have here as farmers is the rotting of mangoes on the trees,” said Teresa Kawira, a 45-year-old mango farmer. “This is because of the overabundance of mangoes and lack of affordable technologies to help us preserve our fruits for extended lengths of time.”
“I am hopeful that by applying this technique, mango losses will be a thing of the past,” she said.
With the new technique, farmers have been able to increase their fruits’ shelf life by up to two weeks, measurably reducing losses, according to the Rockefeller Foundation. The coolers also give them more time to negotiate with different market channels and get better prices.
The Initiative has been working with farmers in registered cooperatives, such as Masii Farmers Horticultural Cooperative Society, where Technoserve trained a group of 90 farmers how to build the zero-energy, cooling-brick chambers.
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The cooler needs around 800 burnt bricks and two carts of sand, which are locally available at low costs. It takes two to three people to build it, and around to two to three hours to complete.
The teams start by watering the 800 burnt bricks and two carts of sand until they are soaking wet. On the construction site, the area is raked flat to rid it of any pebbles and debris. Sand is then layered onto the flat surface on the site to provide a base to place the foundation of the cooler. Bricks are arranged in a rectangular shape, in nine layers, with an inner and outer wall with spacing between the two. The cavity between the inner and outer walls is filled with wet sand and finally covered with a lid.
The lid is built using raw materials such dried palm leaves, dried grass or dried banana leaves and wooden poles. The farmers are warned against using an iron sheet for a lid as it will increase heat in the evaporative cooler. They are, instead, encouraged to water the sand twice a day to maintain its cooling effect.
Finally, a shed is built over the entire cooler to protect it from sunlight.
“Food loss and waste is a critical issue affecting today’s agriculture sector and food security, also making it a large missed opportunity for more targeted investment. Each year, 30 per cent of all food produced for human consumption – 1.3 billion tons – is lost before it reaches consumers,” said Betty Kibaara, the Director in charge of Food Initiative at Rockefeller Foundation.
The initiative aims to reach at least 35,000 farmers in the Eastern and Coastal regions of Kenya and millions of smallholders across Africa by 2022. It is encouraging farmers to join registered cooperatives in order to access these benefits, as the initiative will reach out to farmers in cooperatives.