Due to ‘modernisation’, African societies are rapidly phasing out traditional ways of storing food which for decades ensured food security. Gone are the days when every household constructed a granary to store surplus food for the rainy day.
Today, farmers are more interested in selling their surplus crops than storing them. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says in its 2009 report that cooperative movements that originally supported farmers with seeds, access markets and good prices have also taken a back seat.
The replacement of granaries by national food storage silos was also a big hinderance to food security in some countries, FAO says. In some countries, according to FAO, a reasonable number of farmers have replaced traditional foods such as maize, millet and cassava with cash crops such as flowers, coffee and tobacco which do not require storage as they are sold soon after harvest.
Food storage in Rwanda
Francois Nsengiyumva, the chairman task force for post-harvest and storage in the Ministry of Agriculture (MINIAGRI), says: “In order to improve food security, it is necessary to take the efforts down to the grass root level and engage households in keeping and preserving food. The biggest problem with some farmers is the limited land which limits production capacity.”
According to Nsengiyumva, storage not only ensures food security, but also makes marketing easier for farmers. “The presence of the national storage facility enables storage of bulk produce. This makes marketing a bit easy for the farmers since the staff of the MINIAGRI work together with the people.”
As output continues to grow, focus needs to shift towards storage and marketing. “A lot of produce has been realised and a kilo of maize and beans currently goes for Rwf140 and Rwf 300 respectively. There is also a new strategy to incorporate the storage of potatoes,” says Nsengiyunva.
According to FAOs 2009 review of Rwanda, storage infrastructure in rural areas of Rwanda is still inadequate to handle local production. The farmers, according to FAO, are also unable to ensure quality maintenance of existing storage facilities.
Fortunately, the government of Rwanda is aware of this problem and has since embarked on successful strategies to improve household food security. The strategy includes training of farmers in best post-harvest practices, distribution of tools and equipment, carrying out post-harvest losses survey, construction of drying grounds in different districts, construction of warehouses and installation of metallic silos.
Other plans include development of the National Strategic Grain Reserves Development strategy as well as fertilizer purchasing and distribution.
Why granaries should be treasured
Mary Rucibigango, the agricultural information and communications coordinator, says granaries are an important aspect in the general activities of the farmers.
“After harvest, a lot of surplus produce is usually lost resulting from insect infestation, pests and diseases. A granary is raised a few metres from which it allows sufficient aeration and minimises contact with the ground pests that would eventually damage the seeds in the main facility.”
Usually the granary floor is smeared with cow dung and ash which act as insect repellents. “I used to grow a lot of maize several years ago and would keep the surplus for the following year. We used not to run out of food,” said Nsengiyunva.
According to scientists, the biggest challenge to food storage is moulds and spores that thrive in moist conditions. These make the biggest portion of microbial attacks to stored seeds. The moulds are the major source of afflatoxins which are poisonous to the humans. Granary storage offers stored produce sufficient aeration and the periodic sun drying of stored produce further reduces the moisture content to negligible levels.
Before storage, the seeds meant for planting may be covered in the ash or sprayed with lemon juice during fumigation and closed for some time. This combination is a very good repellent of the stored grain weevil (Stophilus) which damages kernels during storage.
Since there is a reduction in the post-harvest losses, there is likely to be an increase in the amount of produce sold which results into an increase in revenue collected.
How to maintain the granaries
Traditional granaries are grass thatched and conical - usually 8 feet high. The grass has to be constantly replaced since its perishable. It is important for farmers to periodically take the produce out for drying in the sun to control the rising moisture content, pests and mould growth.
“The harsh weather conditions resulting from environmental destruction due to human activities are also a big contributor to the collapse of granary food storage. Harsh winds and floods are a danger to the granaries hence it is important to protect these storage houses from erosion,” adds Rucibango.
However, there are challenges in setting up of food banks and granaries.
For instance there is need to process large amounts of food before proper storage. Foods like legumes and tubers need processing first into flour, or dehydration to zero moisture content before subjecting them to storage. Ordinarily this would require normal sun drying techniques but for larger produce, it may necessitate modern drying machinery which is expensive. This makes food storage cumbersome. If the foods are not exposed to sufficient drying, the grains harbour a lot of moisture which facilitates the growth of microorganism like moulds.
Similarly, yeast spores may germinate resulting into fermentation of the produce within the storage facility making granary work quite cumbersome.