How proper harvest handling can turn around productivity

A handling facility in Gahara Sector where 30 tones of maize can be dried. Photos by Kelly Rwamapera.

Before residents of Gahara Sector in Kirehe District, Eastern Province started proper post-harvest handling, they used to sell their maize at Rwf80-100 a kilogramme, which brought in little, if any, profits.

Over the course of the last two years, residents have embraced proper handling of their maize and grains after harvesting by making use of drying shelters.

The campaign was initiated by the Ministry of Agriculture, and has trained over 150,000 farmers’ cooperative leaders on how to prevent moulding and aflatoxin.

Benon Munyakazi, the Gahara Sector Agriculture Officer, explains how farmers have benefitted from post harvest handling. 

“The maize in drying shelters naturally dries under the husks, making it the ideal choice for maize miller buyer who want clean and well dried maize grain,” Ciprien Kagisha, the president at Gahara Maize Growers Cooperative (COAIGA), said.

When it rains, the drops fall down the husks and the corn inside remains untouched by water and this can prevent moulding and aflatoxin for over a month of both rain and sunshine.

Kagisha said that farmers used to dry their maize on the ground which could make their produce prone to moisture content and aflatoxin leading the produce to be rejected by premium buyers.

Today, all farmers dry their produce using handling shelters which improved their maize quality and attracted premium buyers.

According to Kagisha, they sell their maize at Rwf250-270, nearly triple of the former prices.

“Before embracing proper postharvest handling of maize, a third of our produce could go to the market while the rest could be found containing with moulds and rejected,” he said.

COAIGA cooperative grows maize on about 2000 hectares where they yield more than 8000 tonnes per season.

According to the Gahara Sector Agriculture Officer Benon Munyakazi, the farmers started with one tonne per hectare in 2010 and as they improved their farming methods, the output grew to four tonnes per hectare.

“We’re working with farmers to see to it that every hectare produces more than six tonnes and it is possible because some farmers have proved it is possible,” he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture built two drying shelters for maize growers in Gahara Sector.

However, Munyakazi said the drying shelters are taking more produce than they are designed to handle.

The drying shelters are situated in farmlands for those who cannot construct temporary ones at their homes.

There are over 3500 hectares of maize in Gahara Sector on which over 10000 tonnes of maize are harvested  each season according to Munyakazi.

The Government roll out a seven year postharvest strategy in 2011 as a way of doing away with aflatoxin in grains.

Besides drying shelters and canvases given to farmers, the Government provided solar bubble dryers, and mobile dryers, and constructed a cob dryer that can process 400 tonnes at ago.

There are granaries that can store over 300,000 tonnes across the country and the private sector is involved in the storage of harvest which makes cooperatives able to acquire bank loans using stored harvest as collateral.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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