Storage Rights to Reverse Grain Postharvest Loss
By William Lanier, NeverIdle Farms and Consulting (Ghana)
Development experts discuss how the “new 'golden age' of agronomy” (Pearce, 2016) and production packages will increase Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) staples like rice, wheat, corn, oilseed and pulse (grain) harvest. However, the experts “are yet to see post-harvest as an integral part of the whole system” (Boa, 2016) or how stopping “Postharvest and related input Loss” (PHL) "increases food availability without further use of land, water and other agricultural inputs" (APHLIS, 2015).
Development production packages that merely increase grain harvest lack meaning because “sms based information, micro-finance, mechanization, seed, fertility, pest management” (inputs) are wasted when improper drying and storage allows birds, rats, insects and fungi to cause “significant loss postharvest” (Lipinsky, 2013).
Background to the Problem.
“Of course, not all agricultural products are created equal and it is impossible to lump all harvested food products under one set of best practices” (Devex, 2016). Some PHL is of wet fruits, vegetables and meat (densely nutritious) and some is dry, high calorie grains. When properly dried and stored, high calorie grain, feeds most of the human labor and animal power needed to produce densely nutritious food and so “many current calls for innovation refer specifically to staple grains” (Devex, 2016).
Historically grower harvest (stage #1) grains to be dried, aggregated, stored, processed and marketed with Grain Distribution Logistics and Infrastructure (GDLI) and after family needs, surplus exits (stage #6) to consumers. See Graphic A.
Graphic A. Grain Distribution Logistics and Infrastructure (GDLI) divided into 6 stages.
Source: GDLI FAO 2015 / D. Mejla modified by author to include Harvest
Source: Primitive / Traditional image #2 AHPLIS
At stage 1# and #2, mud, grass and wood (locally available materials) are typically used to construct stationary floors, raised platforms, walls and roofs GDLI for families. Recently some Development projects have introduced plastic bag and metal can (constructed by local artisan) systems that are family-sized and “air-tight for non-residual fumigation” (FAO, 2015). Many production packages implement warehouses and related receipt systems (WRS) at stage #3, #4 and #5.
The Problem for Growers.
It is risky for “tenure insecure” (Perez, 2014) growers to set their own goals, invest and maintain GDLI for airtight storage at the required scale and proximity. SSA growers do not own the land they harvest or have rights to tailor a warehouse to their needs and so “Poor storage puts a damper on maize farmers’ cash prospects” (Business Daily Africa, 2014).
Locally available GDLI is damaged by termites, weather and will require maintenance to stop groundwater and the condensation caused by day and night temperatures that allow fungi and insects to flourish. Even triple layers of plastic inside GDLI does not stop the wear and tear caused by removing daily portions, chewing by rats, “perforations” (George, 2011) by insects that bore in and soon plastic is not airtight. The longer the grain is stored airtight before the seal is broken, the longer it would take for insect or grain metabolism to restore the airtight atmosphere. If the airtight atmosphere is not restored, residual fungi will grow and insects will feed. If wear and tear, perforations, chewing has allowed insects to enter any type of plastic bag, those insects are protected from fumigation. Only when they are recycled, are acres of triple plastic bags chemical free.
Artisan constructed metal cans tailor to short and small family needs, but airtight structures larger than 1.8 tonne “become hard to operate” (George, 2011) and “difficult to transport” (FAO, 2015) to the GDLI needed to protect them when surplus needs storing.
A Problem for Development
Storing large amounts of surplus grain for food compel production packages to implement stationary “collection silos/shed, reserve and distribution centers” (#3-#4-#5-#6 Graphic A.) that are managed by institutions. Typical institutions store the average local harvest, but average harvest amounts are rare because of demand, weather and crop pests and so GDLI is idle or overflowing. If institutions are distant or do not scale to accomplish sack monitoring that is invasive with back-breaking “periodic rotations” (SAWBO, 2015), institutions soon "become rusting monuments to inappropriate technology transfer. None of the other institutional storage facilities owned by MoFA, FASCOM, CMB, Action AID or others were being used” (Armah, 2006).
Production packages attempt WRS to improve institutional GDLI. However, because of the liability associated with quantity lost to poor monitoring and “markets are insufficiently quality conscious to distinguish between grades” (Hodges, 2014) “WRS are typically multimillion projects [institutions] that do not work, as the marketing environment is not sufficiently developed to support them. Even if they did work [after support ends], they [WRS] would not help smallholders, which they are often claimed to do" (Ferris, 2013).
The missed marketing due to lost quantity and the quality ignored is a stark contrast to the net benefits suggested by "empirical studies showing that commodity [safe food] trading presents enormous benefits to economies" (Narh, 2015).
It is encouraging that most Northern Ghana NGO cultural advisors do see that post-harvest is an integral part of the system. However, even though their extended family is exposed to mycotoxins in the villages, advisors and their NGOs fail to address how:
- Bio-control products must overcome the tendency of fungi to exchange DNA before they are an effective means to reduce aflatoxins
- Sun and heat will stop fungi, but the colorless aflatoxin that remains is difficult to manually sort from surplus grain
- Periodic sack rotations are invasive and a back breaking method of monitoring grain for pests
- Depending on the crop, when low levels of fungi or insects enter typical GDLI, higher levels of aflatoxin result (IARC, 2015)
- Insecurity limits growers from scaling GDLI so their net benefits reduce the yield gap.
Dr. Cardwell (2015) presents, growers
"whose scale of operation is too small to be able to produce SAFE FOOD, are too small to farm maize (or any aflatoxin sensitive staples)" or afford “health care, school fees, retirement and supply National food security or surplus for exports” (peace-of-mind).
Production package GDLI should stop aflatoxin, just like washing hands with soap prevents ebola. However advises Ruxin (2014), “Step One to Fighting Ebola - Start with Corruption” or inappropriate institutions will increase the "yield gap [that] may exist because the high costs of [agricultural] inputs or the low returns from increased production make it economically suboptimal to raise production to the maximum technically attainable" (Godfray, 2010).
Myths like; end user ‘cost’ is a limiting factor (Devex, 2016), designs for storage structures preferably built from ‘locally’ available materials are urgently needed (IARC, 2016), there is no ‘immediate’ net benefit to reducing aflatoxin (Walker, 2015), and finally metal storage [GDLI] is ‘expensive’ (Rose, 2014) persist because the "benefits from improved storage technologies are seldom systematically compared with their costs” (Kaminski, 2014).
It is not a myth says the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC, 2016), that “An estimated 500 million of the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia are exposed to mycotoxins [like aflatoxin] at levels that substantially increase mortality and morbidity.”
It is grower net benefit, not end user cost that is the limiting factor. Reversing the PHL that causes morbidity and mortality deserves addressing the underlying problem of grain being contaminated in the field. Agronomists know that in environments like Northern Ghana which couple naturally moving air of low relative humidity and the heating effects of sunshine, grain will dry standing. When grain is dried standing, it spends less time close to the ground exposed to the soil-borne fungi. The net benefit is significantly less aflatoxin. However, those operations that are too small or not conscious of grade, harvest grains with little regard for moisture content onto drying tarpaulin or platforms that are at ground level. Additional handling and drying grain close to the ground increases the risk of soil borne fungi that produce aflatoxin.
Some production packages have tested solar and even fuel dryers to enhance typical GDLI outside the dried standing zones. However, growers understand net benefits and IRAC (2015) reports “Small-scale farmers require solar dryers that are more affordable to purchase or construct and need little maintenance” and “lack of success of using solar based drying among rural commercial [surplus] farmers has been attributed to the cost, complicated operational procedures, and the reluctance to change from traditional methods.”
Long lasting and low maintenance metal outperforms locally available materials, by forming wide opening roofs that breathe when they are closed to mitigate condensation, robust walls and cone shaped floors that are raised to stop rats and ground water and let gravity enhance the labor to process and clean (utility). Combining utility and integral wheels (Graphic B and Images A) means this utility is mobile GDLI that “parks cost-effectively so trucks, trailers and wagons [transport] can go to haul heavy loads” (Bessonova, 2015).
When moisture testing governs the harvest of standing grain, safe surplus can be aggregated directly into mobile utility GDLI (optimal).
Graphic B: Mobile utility storage
Image A: Empty 30 tonne on tow
Source: Unknown and modified by author
Even before “Internal regulatory enforcement creates demand for grading” (Cardwell, 2015), the “rights that create incentives for technology adoption” (Easterly, 2015) are Step one to the immediate net benefits of reduced sack handling, disrupting institutions and
“Scientific and cost-effective pest monitoring procedures that permit judicious adjustments to the timing, choice and intensity of control actions; timely chemical pest control measures, in grain storage, which are often not only the cheapest but also the most reliably efficacious of the possible options” (Proctor FAO, 1994).
If GDLI is optimal, “Every 1 percent reduction in postharvest loss leads to $40 million in output gains, with farmers as key beneficiaries” (Mendoza, 2016).
PHL will be reversed when multimillion production packages direct education and training and distribution at optimal GDLI so tenure-less growers
“set, or modify, their own goals, so two farms with identical climates and soils may be managed with different aims to achieve a different mix of outputs” (FAO, 2015) and
“Natural resources benefit the people in the countries that possess them in an inclusive manner, and create value addition in sustainably managing natural resources including ensuring protection of ecosystems and minimizing environmental degradation” (Africa’s Adaptation Gap, 2015).
References on request.