It’s the dream of every farmer to realise a bumper harvest and sell produce at a good price. At times, storing the crop to sell later is a sure means to better earnings.
Similarly, a food trader who buys the produce in bulk during harvesting preserves the stock and waits for attractive prices as he strives to maintain the commodity in perfect condition.
However, this is not always the case, since traditional preservation methods and poor storage techniques often fail to prevent wastage from pests and diseases.
Post-harvest losses of staple foods continue to pose a major threat to food security at household level. Food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, from the farm down to the consumption stage. This loss occurs during threshing, shelling, drying, storage and transport.
Current overall post-harvest losses stand at about 10 to 30 per cent depending on the crop, with that of cereals estimated at 10 per cent. For maize alone, with 42,500,000 bags (of 90 kg) produced last year, wastage amounted to about Sh10.8 billion.
At 10 per cent loss, some 4.25 million bags valued at about Sh1 billion goes to waste. This is a huge loss; nonetheless, it can be reduced through appropriate technologies, mainly during storage. Minimizing such losses could play an important role in boosting food security.
As well as the loss of food and nutritional value, this can pose serious health hazards if linked to the consumption of aflatoxin while also poor quality grains lead to reduction in marketing opportunities as discoloured grains fetch low prices.
Hermetic Storage Technology (HST) is the latest innovation to reduce post-harvest losses, raise the incomes of smallholders and make the country food secure.
It has been promoted as a proven safe and cost-effective solution for households for the storage of dried maize, red beans, cow peas, green grams, sorghum, millet, chick peas and other cereals.
Hermetic storage bags preserve the dried cereals and pulses without the use of any pesticide dust. They have outer Woven Polypropylene (WPP) bags and the inner liners. The WPP bag protects the inner liners that give the best hermetic properties to block gases and water vapour.
Once the hermetic bag is closed as per the instructions provided, oxygen and other gases are prevented from entering or exiting.
This protects the dried grains and pulses from damage that mostly occurs during post-harvest storage and suffocates any living organisms inside. The stored grain can last up to two years and the bag is reusable.
Improved storage allows farmers to reap the benefits of improved prices by delaying sales until prices rise.
However, the produce must be dried adequately, since the hermetic technology does not allow further drying during storage unlike the natural fibre bags.
Nevertheless, the technology protects stored grains from pests, rodents, birds and fungi, and also allows them to be kept for longer periods with no appreciable loss of quality.
The HST was initially developed with support from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to Purdue University. During the last four years, the USAID, through its Feed the Future flagship project in Kenya,
Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprise (KAVES) project, together with industry players, including the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), supported the promotion and commercialisation of hermetic storage bags for home storage. Sales of bags were promoted through trainings and demonstrations to show farmers how they can be used to maintain the quality of stored cereals after harvest.
Through field days and media messaging, adoption of the new technology has been growing rapidly and new manufacturing and distribution companies have entered the market to provide more choices for users.
As a result of the promotion, sales have increased and the market for the hermetic storage bags brands has rapidly evolved to meet the growing demand, with various companies supplying the market.
The high-quality brands available include Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS), GrainPro-Super Grain, Zero Fly, Agro-Z and Elite bags.
Farmers and traders agree that HST offers a clear solution both at farm level and as for commercial storage and trading system.
Recently, USAID-KAVES, together with the HST bag manufacturers and other development partners, launched an HST campaign dubbed; IT WORKS!
A slogan, Zuia Njaa na gunia tano kwa kila jamii (prevent hunger with five gunny bags for each family), aimed at boosting the adoption of this affordable and safe food storage method, was unveiled.
The six-month campaign running from November 2016 to April 2017 targets small-scale farmers, schools and households.
The sensitisation campaign includes road shows across the counties, television and radio messages, hermetic storage technology field days, village demonstrations and schools sessions.
Bernadette Murgor is the editor-in-chief of the Smart Farmer magazine