Reducing Postharvest Losses Key to Improve Food Availability for Ethiopian Farmers

By Fatouma Seid

ADDIS ABEBA – A short walk between homesteads and driving through crop residues and remnants left in a vast farmland gives a vivid image that local farmers produce wheat and maize as major crops.

A warm climate and fertile land provided ideal condition to grow these crops. When compared with many parts of Ethiopia, the communities in this area produce good amount of harvest.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with smallholder farmers in Amhara region, northern Ethiopia. The farmers in Ahuri kebele grow wheat and maize as a staple food. I was able to discuss with the farmers the challenges they face and learn how an FAO project on postharvest management benefited them.

An Ahuri farmer on average harvests 55 quintals of wheat per year. However, the farmers lose about 22 to 26 percent of their wheat production during postharvest activities and in their traditional storages. For the farmers who grow wheat as a main source of food, this is a huge loss and it affects the effort to achieve food security and improved livelihoods.

The farmers use very traditional storage systems. The storages are made with mud and cow dung – which is mostly women’s role. It takes months to complete one storage, putting too much pressure on women who already shouldered the burden of taking care of their families. The storages are ineffective and often vulnerable to weevil and termite infestation and spoiled by mold and moisture.

To reduce this loss, farmers are forced to sell more of their produces right after harvest for cheap prices. This is a lost opportunity to get a fair price for their produces when the price is good.

Farmer Welela, a mother of five and other local farmers were using pesticide to prevent weevil attack. She had to apply up to four times a year. However, it was not fully effective in preventing a weevil’s attack.

The farmers apply pesticide on wheat stored in indoor traditional storages. In addition to exposure to possible health risks, the farmers told me they find it very uncomfortable to sleep in their houses when they apply the chemical because of its strong scent and fumigating nature.

In collaboration with the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), FAO supports over 10 000 smallholder farmers with awareness training and providing technologies to reduce postharvest losses of major food crops in four regions of Ethiopia.

Farmers need safe and reliable storage for their crops. The project distributed among farmers a metal silo, a locally produced safe storage facility and moisture tester, a tool that indicates the right moisture level of crop plant before harvesting and storing the crop.

Gedef and Wuhayehu, couple farmers in Ahuri community mainly produce wheat. They had problems with keeping their wheat produce safe – attacks of pests, rodents, termites and mold are some of them. The couples received training and one metal silo three years ago. Currently they use it to store six quintals of wheat produce which they use for food.

The metal silo made life easier for the family. Their wheat produce is safe and they don’t have to apply pesticides. They eat clean and safe food, and sell some in the local market for better prices.

For those farmers who produce 50 to 60 quintals a year, one metal silo is not enough but FAO’s support is to introduce the technology and put in place lasting way to create access.

To achieve this purpose, we trained and equipped local young people to produce metal silos. This support provides double benefits – making metal silo available locally and creating job opportunity for young people. The young people involved in fabricating and selling metal silos have diversified their produces to other local demands which provided an opportunity to expand their business.

Direct beneficiary farmers have successfully adopted postharvest handling technologies and practices for grain. Non-direct beneficiary farmers are keen to have the technologies. I am happy to see farmers have access to additional metal silos locally.

However, the government and other partners need to work further to capacitate local metal silo fabricators to meet the increasing cost of inputs. This will contribute to the effort to meet the local demands.

As part of the project support, a national postharvest management strategy on grain crops has been formulated to bring the postharvest management issue to the Government’s attention and agenda. The issue of grain postharvest management has already become of the priority agenda for the government.

The second phase of this project is being implemented in four regional states by adding new beneficiary communities with a funding of USD2.9million.

In addition to this, with the financial source from the Government of Germany, FAO and the government of Ethiopia are implementing a project on postharvest handling of key fruits and vegetables.

Our partnership effort to reduce postharvest losses in Ethiopia has already paid off. The has reduced postharvest losses of food crops in the region by 10 to 20 percent. The national postharvest strategy developed with the support of the project has brought postharvest issue to the government’s development programme.

Institutional capacity building at federal and regional levels has enhanced the stakeholder’s capacity to implement postharvest handling undertakings.

By working together, we will be able to reduce the current 30 percent postharvest loss to zero in the near future.

The author of this article is Fatouma Seid, FAO Representative to Ethiopia.
Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Ethiopian Monitor Online.