Farmers must safeguard and secure their harvest against deterioration and spoilage if they are to minimise post-harvest losses, SeedCo’s head of agronomy, Mrs Wendy Madzura advised.
Speaking at a virtual symposium organised by Seed Co last Friday, Mrs Madzura said that farmers lose between 10 to 20 percent of their harvest during the transportation and processing stage.
“Pre and Post-harvest grain losses account for up to 40 percent of grain losses in Zimbabwe,”
The losses can, however, be minimised if farmers put in place safeguards as recommended by experts.
Mrs Madzura highlighted several ways that farmers can minimise losses and maintain the harvest in prime condition for as long as possible.
She said one crucial area farmers have to be aware of is the time of harvesting depending on the type of crop in question.
“Different crops have different physiological maturity indicators that farmers should be aware of.”
For maize, Mrs Madzura said farmers needed to look at the physiological maturity as indicated by the formation of the black layer at the tip of the kernel.
Mrs Madzura said farmers also needed to be on guard against storing maize when it is still too wet or when it is too dry.
When grain is too wet, there is a high risk of rapid deterioration and spoilage. When it is too dry it is subject to damage during handling and is more susceptible to shrinking.
“High moisture content in stored grain encourages fungal and insect problems, respiration and germination,” Mrs Madzura cautioned.
She said high moisture content grain is also a risk on human health and can result in liver cancer.
She said fungi produce mycotoxins such as aflatoxin, a risk factor for diseases such as oesophageal and liver cancer.
Mrs Madzura recommended that the ideal moisture for grain storage is 12,5 percent for maize, sorghum and millets.
The ideal moisture storage for soya beans is 11 percent while groundnuts require 7 percent.
Mrs Madzura also recommended drying methods that can help maintain grain quality and clear field for next crop.
“The drying methods include the natural way where cobs can be left on the plant until they are dry. Cobs can also be reaped and put on cribs.”
Using artificial methods, she said farmers can force heat through grain and in the process, the heated air forces moisture to evaporate.
Once grain has been harvested and dried, farmers will also have to make sure the maize is kept in a clean storage place where chemical treatment can be applied.
“Structure must allow inspection, fumigation and cleaning,”
Mrs Madzura said.
Farmers will, however, have to regularly inspect the grain and make sure the grain temperature and moisture is not too high. Presenting at the same symposium, Grain Marketing Board (GMB)’s Charles Muchechemera advised farmers to take samples of their grain to the nearest GMB depot for moisture content testing before delivery.
“The service is offered at no cost to the farmers,”
Mr Muchechemera added that all grain procured by GMB from farmers must be of acceptable quality to ensure that it is fit for human consumption and that it is suitable for long-term storage without quickly going bad.
Official from ZFC Limited, Chemplex and the Environmental Management Agency also made presentations with the aim of making sure that farmers protect their harvest.