The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) has embarked on the use of mobile grain dryers in a bid to reduce post-harvest losses and limit exposure of the harvest to aflatoxin.
Aflatoxin is a toxin (poison) produced by mold on poorly handled harvests that can damage the liver and may lead to liver cancer over long exposure (consumption of affected foods).
Illuminée Kamaraba, the post-harvest Management Division Manager at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) told The New Times that 10 mobile dryer machines have been bought at a cost of Rwf475 million.
She said they can process 57 to 84 tonnes of well-dried and cooled cereals per day.
Targeted crops include maize, rice, wheat, soybeans and beans.
In addition, she said, there are other six cob (maize) dryer machines that cost Rwf699 million which are being shipped into the country and are expected to arrive before the end of this month. One cob dryer machine has a capacity processing four to six tonnes of cobs dried per day, she indicated.
The development comes as the post-harvest losses in Rwanda are around 16-22 percent for cereals and 11 percent for beans, while the country is targeting to reduce that to 5 percent of losses by 2024, according to Kamaraba.
The mobile grain dryers use electricity and can be connected to tractors in order to use its power to run its diesel-powered burner where there is no electricity supply system.
For the cob dryer machine, its burner and fan depend on the supply of three-phase electricity and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) gas, while the cob container (the wagon) is a tractor-drawn vehicle.
Rationale and helping cut post-harvest losses
Kamaraba said the harvesting periods, she said, often coincide with rainy periods (especially from December through April), rendering the traditional sun drying less effective.
Besides the traditional drying (through drying shelters), she said, the Government of Rwanda is promoting mechanical drying as a supplementary technique that ensures the grains are timely and adequately dried and stored.
She indicated that an important quantity of harvest (especially cereals) are damaged during the drying activity due to humidity, and rainwater, an issue they will contribute to addressing.
She explained that the mechanical system will fast the drying activity with an adequate hot/a controllable temperature to ensure the quality of dried maize. Once the maize is well dried the risk of Aflatoxin contamination is highly reduced.
"The mechanical drying will help to dry harvest fast, on time, to reduce the risks of contact with rainwater or humidity due to the drying length in traditional drying shelters. The dried cereals will be stored for a long period without any worry of being damaged," she said.
"The sun drying method sometimes leads to the quality deterioration with aflatoxin infestation as a major threat because this method is too long with high risks of cereal deterioration due to humidity and rainwater," she observed.
Evariste Tugirinshuti, the president of Maize Farmers' Cooperatives Federation in Rwanda said that he got the drying machine service [in the initial phase], testifying that it is helpful to post-harvest handling.
He said spent Rwf200,000 for drying his 20 tonnes of maize, as the fee to dry one kilogramme was Rwf10.
"The machine (technology) is a solution to tackling aflatoxin through effective drying of cereals," he said.
He said he realised that drying 10 tonnes of maize with the machine takes around five hours, which he said could increase to about eight hours during a rainy season, while drying them traditionally in a shelter can take up to a month during a rainy season.
He said that large buyers who are more concerned with standards have been rejecting maize from farmers because of high levels of aflatoxin. This problem results in the farmers missing out on higher prices from such buyers and resort to selling their produce at lower prices on common local markets with low standard requirement.
Private and public partnership model
The machines, Kamaraba said, will be used through private and public partnership (PPP). She noted that the Call for Expression of Interest has been published, adding that the private companies will bring their proposals and the best will be chosen.
With this model, she said, a farmer will pay the drying fees; or an aggregator who has the machine can buy the harvest from farmers and dry it himself or seek for drying service if he does not have the dryer. RAB will be the regulator of drying fees.
She said the maize, rice, soybean and beans growers across the country will benefit from this mechanical drying system.