Safe Storage – A Key to Helping Farmers Reduce Their Crop Losses

May 1, 2014

Jordan Dey, VP for Food Security, GrainPro, Inc.

Courtesy, Margaret Zeigler/Global Harvest Initiative

Washington DC – Policy makers and practitioners in the developing world are increasingly focusing on the importance of reducing post-harvest losses by small farmers to help achieve gains in global food security.

The Alliance to End Hunger and GrainPro hosted a half-day conference on May 6 in Washington DC to further explore the benefits of improving crop storage by farmers and cooperatives. Speakers represented a diverse cross-section of academia, international organizations and the private sector.

Dr. John Lamb from Abt Associates kicked-off the conversation by highlighting that Post-Harvest Loss (PHL) has had a resurgence of interest in the last couple of years – but significantly more work needs to be done.

“This is a very important and complex field which merits more serious thought and considerably more action than it’s been getting,” said Lamb. “Despite its evident importance, [PHL] is significantly underinvested. Substantial research [and] and consensus building is still needed.”

Dr. Dirk Maier leads the new USAID-funded “Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss” at Kansas State University which aims to “provide global leadership in food security by reducing PHL and food waste of staple crops”. Maier said KSU will initially focus its broad-based work initially in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana and Guatemala.

Jaspreet Aulakh, a researcher at Purdue University, argued that better data is needed around PHL, suggesting that there are “huge discrepancies in reported numbers”. Aulakh, in a report for the US Department of Agriculture last year, found that 95% of donor funding is invested in improving agricultural production, while only 5% goes toward reducing crop losses.

Both Dr. Dieudonne Baributsa from the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) program and Phil Villers, from GrainPro, noted that hermetic storage is increasingly seen by smallholder farmers as an effective method for safely storing crops for long periods of time, without having to use pesticides.

Victor Lopez, from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), highlighted the work his organization is doing with smallholder farmers in Chiapas, Mexico, introducing hermetic storage and other agricultural inputs. Kim Elena Ionescu from North Carolina-based Counter Culture Coffee said that hermetic storage had allowed Counter Culture to store specialty coffee for long periods of time after the harvest while maintaining the aroma, color and taste of the coffee.

While not the only solution, hermetic storage provides an important post-harvest storage option for smallholder farmers planting subsistence grains – as well as those who grow cash crops such as coffee and cocoa.

Martin Gummert, Senior Scientist, at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines concluded that improving the dissemination of hermetic storage technology will require a greater investment in capacity building and education for farmers, as well as establishing better supply chains to reach farmers.

“I will always be a pessimistic optimistic,” said the philanthropist Howard G. Buffet, as noted by Dr. Maier in his presentation. “But the effort to lift people out of the dehumanizing and painful state of food insecurity will always be worth it. And sometimes it will even work.”