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After-Harvest Losses Worsen Food Insecurity

20 December 2011

KENYA - Poor post-harvest handling of food crops poses a grave challenge to the country's efforts to curb food insecurity.

Past losses due to poor harvesting mechanisms have been estimated at 30 per cent and this is projected to increase with the heavy rains that coincided with the harvesting of cereals such as maize and rice, reports All Africa.

Rice farmers in west Kenya schemes are likely to lose about 2,600 bags of rice after the National Irrigation Board's store where they kept their harvest was flooded.

Mr Joel Tanui, the area research officer, said rice farmers will suffer as they depend on the proceeds from the sale of the crop. Although the National Cereals and Produce Board has set up the Warehouse Receipt System (WRS) that is expected to reduce maize destruction, other crops continue to face a challenge.

"Rice is the third most consumed food in the country after maize and wheat and with a possible shortage, the country would be forced to import," he said.

Mr Titus Maiyo, the acting public relations at the cereals board, admitted that some farmers lack efficient storage and technical skills on post-harvest management and handling.

However, the board has invested in the WRS, which allows farmers to store their crop and avoid losses. "Maize farmers can store a minimum of 100 bags at the stores at no extra charge to ensure that their harvest is safe," he said.

Sold their produce

A pilot project started in Narok, where Mr Maiyo said farmers who were able to store maize with them sold their produce at a much higher price compared to those who rushed to sell their produce at the peak of harvesting.

"Four months later, the price appreciated to about Sh3,500 a bag and we encourage farmers to do that in order to derive maximum returns from their yields," he advised.

The system is insured, assuring farmers that in case of theft or fire, they would be compensated.

The WRS, targeting maize growing areas and other strategic towns such as Kisumu, would drastically reduce losses and consequently improve Kenya's precarious food security.

"In areas where there are subsistence farmers, we have our extension officers, who take them through the appropriate harvesting, transport, and storage systems."

According to a 2010 paper by the agriculture secretary, Dr Wilson Songa, and the director of crops in the ministry, Mr Johnstone Irungu, the situation is likely to be compounded by the advent of the larger grain borer and aflatoxin, where the loss can be 100 per cent, depending on the severity of the outbreak.

To mitigate this, they recommend timely harvesting and dusting with approved pesticides.

"Although the time of harvesting falls under pre-harvesting period, its effect has direct linkage to post-harvest challenges. Delayed harvesting after maturity increases chances of storage pest infestation and grain rotting in the field in the event of early onset of rains," they say.

TheCropSite News Desk

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