Before taking part in the trial, Esther, a smallholder farmer from Eastern Uganda, was forced to sell her crops immediately after harvest for low prices in order to avoid losing as much as 40% of her produce. Today, she is one of the farmers benefitting from the WFP-provided equipment and training in post-harvest handling techniques. Copyright: WFP/Simon Costa
A recently completed trial reveals how P4P-supported smallholder farmers drastically reduced their post-harvest losses, losing less than two percent of their harvest over three months of storage. WFP is now planning to scale up the successful initiative with a project that aims to reach 41,000 farming households in Burkina Faso and Uganda. By receiving specialized training and investing in subsidised storage equipment, these farmers are expected to substantially reduce their post-harvest losses and thereby also increase their surplus and sales.
The results from WFP’s action research evaluation trial on “Reducing food losses in sub-Saharan Africa” clearly show the benefits for smallholders investing in post-harvest handling techniques and storage technologies. In the trial, 400 smallholder farmers in Burkina Faso and Uganda compared their traditional storage facilities with methods and equipment which have proven effective in developed countries, such as metal and plastic silos as well as different kinds of inexpensive hermetic (airtight and water-proof) storage bags. During the 90-day trial period, sampling and data collection were conducted every month. The results show that participants in the trial retained at least 98 percent of their harvest when using the new storage equipment, regardless of the crop and duration of storage. The key to success was intensive training in proper use of the hermetic storage bags and metal and plastic silos, before using the improved technologies.
According to the project’s manager, Simon Costa, many farmers initially expressed scepticism about changing farming techniques which had been used for generations, and many believed that significant post-harvest losses were inevitable. However, Costa said that at the end of the trial: “It was quite emotional to see the reaction of some of the farmers when they opened their new storage units to check on their grain after a month had passed. After watching the grain in the traditional storage units deteriorate quickly, they expected the same (or worse) to be occurring inside the new units. Their disbelief quickly turned to jubilation when they discovered their harvest was in perfect condition.”
Results from the trial suggest that these improvements could potentially lead to a 64 percent gain in income for a single smallholder in Uganda. The improved storage systems also had a positive impact on women’s lives by reducing their workloads, as the storage units eliminate the time-intensive process of separating spoiled grains and re-cleaning.
Photos showing maize quality after 100 days storage using traditional storage (top) and new technology storage (bottom).
Increasing food security, improving lives
Decreasing food waste by reducing the post-harvest losses of smallholder farmers is a vital step towards meeting the world’s growing food needs, and is one of the pillars of the Zero Hunger Challenge. It also plays an important role in P4P’s objective to improve the lives of smallholder farmers, by making food more affordable and consistently available for poor households, leading to an overall increase in food security. The increased preservation of their crops also reduces the need for smallholders to purchase grains to replace the quantities lost during post-harvest storage. This in turn should increase smallholders’ disposable income, allowing them to make investments in better health, nutrition and education for themselves and their families.
Building on the successful results of the trial, WFP has launched a 14-month Special Operation targeting 41,000 P4P-supported farming households in Burkina Faso and Uganda. The operation aims to reduce post-harvest losses by 70% through the provision of specialized training and subsidized storage silos to protect harvested crops from pests, mould and moisture. However, without an assured market, smallholders may not have the confidence to invest their time, energy, and money in new post-harvest handling techniques and equipment. The presence of WFP as a buyer intend to give smallholders assurance that they will be able to sell their increased surplus. P4P will continue working to link smallholder farmers to quality markets beyond WFP in order to ensure sustainability.
— Purchase 4 Progress (@WFP_P4P) May 29, 2014
- Final report: Reducing Food Losses in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Project Document: Logistics Capacity Development: Post-Harvest Food Loss Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa through Improved Storage and Handling at the Start of the Supply Chain
- Previous article: Comparative research to reduce post-harvest losses