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Improved grain storage technology brightens up Kenyan farmers

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Smallholder farmers can now reduce post-harvest losses in maize by 20 per cent using an improved grain storage technology through adoption of hermetic devices such as hermetic plastic bags, plastic and metal silos to store their grains.

Maize has remained a hot button issue in Kenya, for many reasons, not least because it is the most important staple food crop, grown and consumed by a majority of farmers. Maize consumption is estimated at 98 kilograms per person per year, which translates to roughly 30 to 34 million bags (2.7 to 3.1m metric tonnes) per year, according to Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy And Development 2016 research.

However, approximately 20 per cent of Kenya’s annual grain production is lost after harvest, primarily due to infestation by weevils and pests, and also due to mold and rot which breeds aflatoxin.

Considering Kenya’s average annual production of 40m 90-Kgs bags of maize, post-harvest loss easily deprives the country off eight million bags; in monetary terms, that translates to a mind-boggling Sh20bn loss (presuming that a bag of maize can fetch a moderate market price of Sh2,500 each), thereby dealing a big setback to one of the key planks of the governments Big Four Agenda, that of achieving food security for all  by the year 2020.

Grain post-harvest loss is especially acute for small holder farmer who lack effective, safe and affordable storage solutions. The majority of farmers still rely on outmoded storage procedures – grain is placed in ordinary polypropylene plastic or fiber bags, and then admixed with pesticide. The procedure spells double jeopardy for the farmer. First, the bags lack airtightness, which means that pests and weevils multiply and attack the stored grain with abandon. Second, the pesticides used not lack the potency necessary to kill the weevils, but also spawn myriad health side effects when the grain is consumed by humans.

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A farmer holding an hermetic bag used to store grains pest free. Photo/AgResults. 

To redress the grain post-harvest loss conundrum, a little publicized but important event happened in Nairobi on 30th October, 2018. Key development partners under the AgResults banner – a consortium put together by the governments of Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, the United States of America, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Bank – gathered at the Sankara hotel in Westlands, to hand four million dollars incentive funds to private sector companies that are investing in Kenya’s food security objective of combating grain post-harvest losses.

 Three companies – Bell Industries, A to Z Textile Mills, Elite Innovations – were awarded for their efforts in helping promote improved grain storage solutions (also known as hermetic devices) in the country, through an On-Farm Storage project piloted by AgResults in Kenya, focusing on small holder grain farmers.

The project uses a results-based approach to incentivize the development and commercialization of effective grain storage technologies that include hermetic plastic bags, plastic and metal silos. Courtesy of the project’s market based approach, the hermetic products are now widely sold in agrovets throughout the country, bringing a much needed relief to farmers who had grown accustomed to losing their grain after harvest.

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