Agriculture Training Guides Families in Limiting Harvest Loss and Improving Food Security
The Nuru Kenya Agriculture program uses a combination of credit, quality inputs, training, field support and group work to help the farmers of Kuria West increase their maize yields. Yet, the program’s work does not end at the time of harvest. The final focus of any rainy season, educating farmers on how to minimize their post harvest losses, is critical to food security as it ensures maize can be stored for consumption throughout the year.
On average, a farmer may lose around 3 bags (270 KGs or 594 pounds!) of maize after harvesting. The losses can occur at any stage of the harvest process. Prior to being brought in from the field the maize is susceptible to pests. During the shelling process losses occur because of spillage, breakage and improper shelling techniques. Even after being bagged and stored away, maize can spoil due to rotting, mold, weevils or other pests if it is not properly treated.
The Nuru Kenya Agriculture program aims to reduce the losses experienced by a farmer by providing comprehensive training at all stages of the harvest process. The training starts by teaching farmers to properly slash and stack their maize in the fields. This is the first step in the drying process, which helps remove moisture from the grains in preparation for storage. After a week or two in the fields, the stacks of maize are harvested (meaning the cobs are removed from stalks) and carried from the farm to the farmer’s homestead.
Once the maize is in from the field it must be further dried before it is ready for shelling. Nuru teaches farmers to place their maize on a clean tarp and dry it in the sun. Maize that is ready for storage should be at about 13% moisture content. Drying is a critical step in the harvest process. Improper drying can result in the growth of fungus that produce aflatoxin in the maize, a dangerous mycotoxin that cannot be consumed by humans or animals.
After drying, Nuru helps farmers understand and employ proper shelling techniques. Shelling is the process of removing the grains (or kernels) from the cob. Traditionally among many small-scale farmers shelling is done by placing the maize in a bag and beating it with a stick. However, this technique results in a lot of broken grains that can cause storage problems and also reduces the value of a farmer’s maize if he or she chooses to take it to market. Nuru combats this problem by promoting the use of small, cheap metal devices called hand shellers. These shellers reduce breakage and result in higher quality maize for storage or sale.
Once the maize is shelled, it’s time for bagging and storage. Prior to bagging, Nuru promotes the practice of applying actellic powder to the maize. This powder is safe for human consumption and helps keep weevils, beetles, moths and other pests out of the dried maize. Finally, Nuru teaches farmers to use a dry, clean and insect free area for storage. It is also essential for farmers to use bags that are in good condition as old overused bags may be contaminated.
Through the harvest training series Nuru aims to ensure that farmers’ hard work does not go to waste once the maize is in from the fields. The staff continues to learn more about post harvest losses each year and strives to introduce farmers to simple, low cost solutions for combating storage challenges. The end goal is to facilitate the storage of maize throughout the year. This ensures that families have enough to eat even when it is not harvest season and helps eliminate the hunger season for thousands of farm families throughout Kuria West.
About Amy Sherwood
Team Leader, Nuru Ethiopia — Originally from Nebraska, Amy has spent much of the last few years researching and working in East Africa. After studying biology at Doane College, Amy pursued an MA in International Studies and Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Wyoming. As a graduate student, Amy studied community adaptive capacity to climate change by examining the drought-coping mechanisms used by small-scale farmers in rural Kenya. Prior to joining Nuru, she worked for the Jane Goodall Institute–Tanzania as a project and volunteer coordinator for the Roots & Shoots program in Dar es Salaam. Amy has also worked for the University of Wyoming and the University of Nebraska as a research assistant, the Wyoming Conservation Corps, and in small-scale organic agriculture.Read More Stories of Hope