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Appeal to aggressively promote metal silos and super grain bags in Malawi

By Wandera Ojanji /CIMMYT

A government official in Malawi is urging extension officers and agro-dealers to promote metal silos and super grain bags to help reduce post-harvest grain losses, a serious problem and challenge for smallholder farmers.

Annual post-harvest losses of maize from insects and pests during storage in Malawi average 15.7 percent of the total maize harvests, an equivalent of 580,000 metric tons. It’s a quantity Godfrey Ching’oma, director of crop development for Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) feels is too high . He urged extension officers and agro-dealers to promote metal silos and super grain bags to help farmers lower these post-harvest losses. “It is our vision that at least half of the farmers in Malawi have access to either metal silos or super grain bags,” Ching’oma said. “Lowering post-harvest losses can only be realized if we work together toward a common goal.

Eric Haraman (right), chief agriculture officer-crop protection for the Department of Crop Development, Ministry of Agriculture, Malawi and Wellingtone Kamwanza, a metal silo artisan demonstrate how to determine moisture content using table salt. Photos: Wandera Ojanji

The amount of total maize production lost to pests annually in Malawi can feed a significant proportion of our people. This is a loss we cannot afford to entertain.” Integrated post-harvest management strategies have brought down the losses. Treating grain using recommended pesticides prior to storage and using Teretriosoma nigrescens, a natural enemy to the devastating larger grain borer, reduced maize postharvest losses from 30 to 15.7 percent.

Ching’oma said he believes the introduction of metal silos and super grain bags will drastically reduce losses due to their proven effectiveness against maize weevils and large grain borers – the two major insect risks to stored maize. “Most of the grain that was treated with insecticides after harvest in July last year has some traces of insect damage, but the grain from the metal silos is as clean as if recently harvested despite the fact that it was loaded in the silos in August and September,” Ching’oma said at the official opening of a training workshop for agricultural extension officers and agro-dealers on hermetic postharvest technologies in Lilongwe, Malawi, on 24 January.

The workshop was organized by the Effective Grain Storage for Sustainable Livelihoods of African Farmers Project (EGSP) Phase-II in collaboration with MAFS. Building on the successes of the previous phase (2008-2011), EGSP-II (2012-2016) is improving food security and reducing the vulnerability of resource-poor farmers – particularly women farmers – in eastern and southern Africa through the dissemination of metal silos and super grain bags. The project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

In her opening remarks, Stéphanie Aubin, SDC’s regional program manager for food security, reiterated the need for mass adoption of the technologies to safeguard grain against the major destructive pests. She called for the establishment of community grain banks to ensure that those who cannot afford to own individual metal silos are able to benefit. The aim of the training was to impart knowledge and skills to extension staff and agro-dealers on management of metal silos and super grain bags, said Tadele Tefera, CIMMYT entomologist and coordinator of EGSP-II. Other reasons for the training included creating awareness of the importance of grain post-harvest management, helping extension workers and agro-dealers gain insights into different factors affecting post-harvest management and explaining traditional and improved post-harvest technologies and their use in grain loss reduction.

Participants in a post-harvest technologies workshop gather in Malawi.

More than 50 participants, representing government extension officers, agro-dealers, artisans and civil society organizations from the Lilongwe and Mchinji districts, attended the training. Facilitators of the training included Tefera; Addis Tishome, CIMMYT entomologist; Jones Govereh, CIMMYT policy economist; Eric Haraman, chief agriculture officer-crop protection, Department of Crop Development, MAFS; and Charles Singano, EGSP national coordinator, Department of Agricultural Research Services, Chitedze Agricultural Research Station, Malawi.