New Storage Tech: Reducing Loss, Increasing Livelihoods in Tanzania

March 2, 2015

By Jordan Dey, Vice President for Food Security, GrainPro

Mbeya, Tanzania – When the small farmers in southern Tanzania opened an airtight Cocoon recently on warm February morning, they collectively gasped at what they saw on the bottom.  Thousands of dead insects, strewn across the floor of the Cocoon.  The farmers from the small village in Isansa, jostled each other, smiling and hooting, grabbing fistfuls of dead insects.

GrainPro is working with local farmer associations to introduce pesticide-free storage technologies. (Courtesy: GrainPro)

GrainPro is working with local farmer associations to introduce pesticide-free storage technologies. (Courtesy: GrainPro)

In two short months, from December 2014 to February 2015, the insects had suffocated to death in the hermetic Cocoon.  Farmers had safely stored hundreds of bags of maize – without using pesticides.

In the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, the use of dangerous pesticides by small farmers to kill insects in their stored grain is widespread and common.  However, if the farmers improperly apply the pesticide, they not only face health issues, particularly for their infants and children, but they reduce the marketability of their grain.  Large buyers and traders, including the UN World Food Program and Tanzania’s National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), will not buy smallholder grain stored with pesticides. This means the farmers must sell their grain immediately after the harvest – at its lowest price during the season – and then are left to eat their remaining grain during the year – all of which is coated in pesticides.

Damaged grain after two months of traditional storage. Insects have eaten or damaged most of the maize. (Courtesy: GrainPro)

Damaged grain after two months of traditional storage. Insects have eaten or damaged most of the maize.

High-quality maize after being stored 2 months in an airtight Cocoon. (Courtesy: GrainPro)

High-quality maize after being stored 2 months in an airtight Cocoon. (Courtesy: GrainPro)

Thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation and the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the farmers in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands, most of whom are women, were offered alternative storage technology last December to test their effectiveness.  In 3 villages, AGRA provided farmers with household level storage, while also providing large storage units (GrainPro’s hermetic Cocoons) for the community’s stored maize.

In interviews after the openings, the farmers said they appreciated the alternative storage technology, particularly being able to store grain without using pesticides.   The quality of the grain was also maintained – the color, taste and appearance – which makes it marketable to local traders.  AGRA will now scale up this pilot project to 12 other sites across Tanzania in 2015.

The Rockefeller Foundation and AGRA are supporting the work on linking small farmers to markets.  Pictured a GrainPro Cocoon in Njombe, Tanzania. (Courtesy: GrainPro)

The Rockefeller Foundation and AGRA are supporting the work on linking small farmers to markets. Pictured a GrainPro Cocoon in Njombe, Tanzania. (Courtesy: GrainPro)

“Smallholder farmers working land holdings that typically average only a few hectares or less can seem like a poor match for large buyers,” wrote Agnes Kilabata, President of AGRA in a recent article.  “Yet, over the last few years, farmer organizations in Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, and Malawi have established aggregation centres where growers can pool their harvests to meet the demands of large institutional buyers, like the World Food Program.”

The villagers in Isansa are currently preparing themselves for the next harvest, due in July 2015.  They know it’s possible to control insects naturally in storage, without using dangerous pesticides. They also now know they have alternatives to selling the maize immediately after harvest.