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Improving postharvest grain storage and loss assessment methods

December 14, 2012

In November, twelve researchers and development practitioners implementing phase two of the Effective Grain Storage for Sustainable Livelihoods of African Farmers Project (EGSP II) travelled from Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, for training on improved postharvest grain storage and loss assessment methods in Nairobi, Kenya.

The course was facilitated by Prof. Rick Hodges, University of Greenwich, UK, and CIMMYT Socioeconomist Hugo De Groote, Policy Economist Jones Govereh, and Project Leader Tadele Tefera. Practical and theory sessions covered topics such as hermetic storage, postharvest technologies, estimating storage losses, assessing ear and grain damage, economic data requirements and collection, and economic analysis of on-station and on-farm storage trials.

Participants were also introduced to the Africa Postharvest Loss Information Service (APHLIS); a system with an innovative framework for analyzing and computing quantitative postharvest losses under different farming and environmental conditions in eastern and southern Africa. It was discussed how using the APHLIS downloadable calculator can support loss reduction projects. According to Hodges, the advantages of this system are that its measure of percentage weight loss of grain is based on an actual reduction in the dry weight of grain; it does not account for changes in quality unless the grain is no longer fit for human consumption; and losses are cumulatively calculated from production and including each step in the postharvest chain.

Despite the importance of economically analyzing crop and storage pest losses, Govereh lamented that such analyses are not well established in the research community. “Economic analysis is rarely available, especially for on-farm losses. In most cases, crop losses are commonly overestimated with benefits often overstated and costs underestimated.”

Govereh outlined the economic analysis of crop and storage pests: estimating the extent of the problem (the area infested); estimating the intensity of the problem (infestation levels, damage, and crop loss); testing efficacy of control methods on-station and on-farm; basic economic analysis of new methods; farmer evaluation of new control methods; modeling and econometric analysis; and impact assessment. According to Hodges, estimating postharvest losses helps in influencing policy makers, improving the efficiency of value chains, and identifying opportunities for increasing food security.

Reiterating the economic benefits of storage, Govereh stated: “Most maize is produced by small-scale farmers in one major season and is meant for home consumption. However, consumption is continuous therefore storage is needed to buffer stocks and protect against price fluctuations.”