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New technology that could reduce post-harvest losses

The Rwanda Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources is calling on the private sector to invest in cereals storage and related technology as part of the efforts to tackle post-harvest losses.

This, if followed through public and private investment in crop storage technologies, the government said it could curb post-harvest losses from the current 16 percent to 5 percent by 2024.

One of the grains storage technologies is the production of the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags that are a simple and cost-effective way of storing grains and seeds without using chemicals preservatives to control insect pests.

The technology improves food security as it can help preserve grains and seeds for long durations without damage.

According to Gilbert Rwaganje who is in charge of Harvest Handling at the Ministry of Agriculture, the bags have no negative impact on human health since it does not require chemicals to control pests inside.

“We urge the factories and businesses distributing those PICS bags to provide instructions to farmers on how to suitably use them while storing the cereals grains. We urge the farmers to use those bags since they have capacity to preserve grains over long periods of time,” he said.

He however, said that there are still few farmers using that kind of storage technology because the price of PICS bag is very high as one piece is sold at Rwf1,700 due to high cost of production.

“We are conducting a study that could guide us on to subsidizing those bags so that they become affordable to farmers and help tackle post-harvest losses,” he said.

He urged the manufacturers to work with agro-dealers across the country so as to scale up the use and training on appropriate and safe ways to store grains.

According to Wenceslas Habamungu, the Director General of Ecoplastic Ltd that recycles plastics into other products, the factory has so far produced over 148,000 PICS bags since 2015 but the high cost has hindered many farmers from using them.

“This production is little compared to the number of farmers in the country. We need collaboration with other stakeholders to ensure affordability and uptake. So many farmers expect subsidies for the bags become affordable just like they benefit from other subsidized inputs,” he said.

He said that the best way to handle post-harvest losses will be to ensure the sustainability of farmers’ market.

“Some farmers lose market because the produce’s quality is eroded by poor post-harvest handling. Agro-processing factories reject the produce that is damaged,” he said.

For instance, Africa Improved Foods rejected 90 percent of supplied maize produce in 2017 “Agricultural Season B” because of the poor quality while MINIMEX, a firm that processes maize flour says that only 45 percent of needed maize grains come from Rwanda because of poor quality caused by aflatoxin.

According to Bernadette Majabelle, an agricultural expert from Tanzania, over two million PICS bags were distributed in her country between 2014 and 2018 saying subsidizing their cost is the best solution.

Dieudonne Baribitsa, the Rwandan who leads the project that is aiming at scaling up the technology in 34 countries including 10 African countries said that the technology helps to store grains between three and four years and avoid selling the fresh produce at giveaway prices.

“Immediately upon harvesting, farmers produce such as beans can sell for as low as Rwf 250 for a kilo of beans, but a few months after, they could be able to sell at Rwf500 or more,” he said.

So far, he said over 19 million PICS bags have been manufactured by private sector between 2007 and 2018 and reached 6 million farmers.

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