21 September 2017

Zimbabwe: Good Post-Harvest Handling Minimises Losses

The 2016-17 farming season will be remembered for the bumper harvest realised by most farmers countrywide. Good rains last season brought good cheer after the country had endured consecutive droughts.

That farming season, which was characterised by above normal rains, saw farmers getting high yields even in low rainfall areas. It is no secret that all farmers who put seed on the ground got reasonable yields and are to some extent food secure. Most farmers sell their surplus and remain with enough crops in stock to ensure household food security.

Farmers should however, not be too excited and neglect post-harvest handling of their produce as this may be eroded by different factors such as fires, pests and rodents. It is important that farmers protect their grain so that it lasts until the next harvest.

A farmer can incur huge losses after harvesting. According to pesticides registrar in the Department of Research and Specialist Services Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Mr Kwadzanayi Mushore, post-harvest losses could be as high as 30 percent.

This presents, not only a loss of food and nutrition, but also all the inputs used along the crop production and storage chain. Examples of these are costs associated with land preparation, fertilisers, seeds, pesticides, transportation among other costs. The main causes of storage losses are insect pests, rodents and rotting.

Storage of crops is important. Crops may be affected by moulds, bacteria, sprouting or over spilling. Storage facilities should always be clean and farmers should constantly check on their stored grain to monitor and control pests. In closed structures such as granaries, warehouses and metal silos, control of cleanliness, temperature and humidity is particularly important.

Damage caused by pests such as insects, rodents and moulds can lead to deterioration of facilities and result in losses in quality and food value as well as quantity. It is advisable that farmers ensure their storage facilities are in good condition.

And, if they are not, they must carry out repairs whenever necessary. Farmers should store grain when it has the correct moisture content. Grains with high moisture content can rot. The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) recommends moisture content of 12,5 percent. Anything above that may result in the crop rotting or developing fungi.

Before bringing in the grain for storage, farmers should also ensure the room or silo is clean and free from pests. Farmers can fumigate before storing their grain. Farmers should be careful when buying pesticides or fumigants and avoid dangerous substances that not only destroy pests but could be harmful to their own health.

In Zimbabwe some farmers buy chemicals on the streets and these do not have application instructions. In using pesticides, farmers are encouraged to buy and use pesticides from registered and reputable dealers only.

A number of people are attracted to cheap products and some unscrupulous dealers take advantage of this. Some farmers have fallen prey to these dealers buying chemicals that are ineffective.

It is important that farmers desist from buying backyard and adulterated pesticides as these may not be effective or may have dangerous substances. For effective results, farmers should use, read and understand labels before use or seek assistance.

Farmers also use chemicals that can also affect their health. For instance some farmers rely on Aluminium Phosphide tablets. Although the farmers have testified that they are effective in controlling pests, the pesticide is a restricted use only.

This means it must be used by people who are trained to handle pesticides and must not be used in the home. The chemical is usually appropriate for huge storage facilities such as silos and not suitable for homes. Thus while it is important to protect grain, farmers should also be wary of the chemicals they use as this may affect their health.

Before consumption, farmers are encouraged to observe safety periods. Safe period refers to the time from application of the pesticide to the time when the pesticide is adjudged to have disintegrated so that it will not pose health threats to the consumer.

This is stated on labels in days. Consumption before the lapse of this period will cause health problems. Besides pests and rodents or thieves, farmers can also lose their stored crops to fire. People should not start fires carelessly as this may impact negatively on the environment and also affect household food security.

Farmers should always conserve grass and stover for use as livestock feeds. Uncontrolled fires can get out of control and destroy the bumper crop and pastures, defeating the whole purpose of Command Agriculture programme.

As farmers prepare for Command Livestock programme, they should also take care of the available pastures and not be careless with fires. Control of veld fires should however not be left to farmers only but it should be the duty of everyone including responsible authorities and institutions. Farmers should also make standard fire-guards to protect their crops and pastures against fires.

The issue of command livestock is not only to help farmers with better livestock but also better husbandry practices including making paddocks and fire-guards.

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