In Ethiopia, farmers, governmental and non-governmental actors have been trying to tackle post-harvest loss and its negative impact on food security. Thirty percent of the total annual crop production vanishes in post-harvest losses, leaving five million Ethiopians annually food-aid dependent.
Tolecha Bekel is a farmer with two hectares of land in the Adea district, one of the highest crop production areas located near the capital Addis Ababa. The area has been registering tremendous production growth, however, farmers like Bekel are losing significant amounts of crops because of poor post-harvest crop management.
He said that until recently, he had paid too much attention to increasing production and productivity, and less to actual grain loss.
In our locality, we had been losing significant amounts of crops postharvest.”
“In our locality, we had been losing significant amounts of crops postharvest. There were different factors, such as handling, transportation, drying, milling and traditional crop storage. Surely, I can tell you that if I could have managed the loss, it would have easily covered the yearly amount of my family’s food demand,” Bekel said.
Misa Demise, Crop Value Chain Development Expert within the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) said: “In Ethiopia, post-harvest practices are extensively handled in traditional ways and hence cause grain loss and deterioration in quality.”
In 2016, for example, of the total 24.8 million tons of annual yield from major edible crops, 3.54 million tons, which could have fed nearly 18 million people, were damaged post-harvest.
Failure to timely collect harvested grains from farms is one among many factors contributing to the post-harvest loss, and it is widespread in Ethiopia’s agricultural sector. According to a senior Ethiopian agricultural expert, harvested agricultural yields are left behind at farms for long periods and hence are exposed to physical changes in temperature and moisture content – they eventually dry up or decay.
A lack of proper transportation facilities leaves harvests exposed to mites, rodents and birds, adding losses at the farm level.
Poor storage facilities and a lack of appropriate packaging materials, resulting in the growth of pests, remain significant challenges for farmers in Ethiopia.
The overall poor post-harvest management across the nation not only affects the short shelf life of the food grains but also hugely impacts the overall decline of edible food for consumption for the steadily increasing population of Ethiopia.
Improved agricultural technologies should be available to the farmer.”
The minimising of post-harvest losses would have a significant and direct impact on food security in Ethiopia. It would enhance food availability, and proper post-harvest management would retain the high nutritional value of crops.
The prevention efforts to reduce post-harvest loss needs comprehensive work, said Misa Demessei, Crop Value Chain Development Expert at the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA). She explained that “improved agricultural technologies should be available to the farmer, especially for those who are small scale holders”.
She continued: “Technology would significantly support farmers to reduce the traditional way of harvesting. The technologies that we are talking about are not those of high mechanisation; we are working on adopted technologies of threshing, winnowing, storage and others. We are doing it in a way that is accessible and useful for small scale farmers.”
Bekel, the farmer living in the Adea district, said ATA’s support has enabled him to improve post-harvest management: “I have been implementing three major tasks to reduce crop loss. Timely grain collection is the first task. Secondly, I have started using better packaging, and finally, I have changed the traditional method of crop storage.”
The Agricultural Transformation Agency of Ethiopia (ATA) has launched mobile phone information programmes for farmers, called ‘8028 Farmer Hotline’, as part of the strategy of tackling post-harvest crop loss. Through the hotline, farmers can easily access information related to weather, markets, and the use of technologies.
“Farmers are using the programme to get various types of information, especially poor and smallholder farmers can access information and start dialogues with professionals on preventing and reducing post-harvest loss,” said Misa.