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Grain storage

Stored grain must be protected from damp and pests

Written by Suraj Sonar 2023

A smiling Nepalese woman places dried and dehusked maize cobs in a large basket made from bamboo

Jansaree stores dried and dehusked maize cobs inside a dhokro. Photo: United Mission to Nepal

Three smiling Guatemalan women, one heavily pregnant, hold bowls of food in a kitchen with wooden walls.

From: Food and nutrition – Footsteps 119

How to eat well, address malnutrition and reduce food waste

In the Nepalese mountains of Putha Uttarganga, most people are subsistence farmers. Maize is the main crop, followed by potato, wheat and beans. However, very few people have enough food to eat all year round, with almost a fifth struggling to find enough food for more than six months a year. 

Because maize production is seasonal, farmers need to be able to store their maize safely and effectively to make sure it lasts as long as possible.

Dry

It is crucial that, before storage, any type of grain is properly dried. This reduces the risk of damage from insects and contamination by aflatoxins – poisons produced by fungi that can cause serious health problems in humans and livestock. 

Crops should be dried either directly in the sun, or in a well-ventilated place that is protected from damp and flooding. To avoid contamination the grains should not touch the soil. For example, they might be dried on bamboo mats or raised structures such as drying racks, or hung from a roof. 

In Putha Uttarganga, freshly harvested maize is hung on wooden racks or placed on roofs to dry in the sun and wind for several days before storing.  

A man sits with a small child on a roof in front of a large container made from bamboo with a pointed roof made from straw
A group of large containers made from bamboo with straw roofs are on a raised platform with mountains in the background

In Putha Uttarganga, dried and dehusked maize is stored inside dhokros. Photos: United Mission to Nepal

Protect

As much as possible, stored grain needs to be protected from the rain, insects and other pests. Natural airflow helps to prevent it from absorbing moisture.

In Putha Uttarganga, dried maize is traditionally dehusked and stored in a dhokro. This is a large bamboo basket with a straw roof. Each dhokro can store up to 200kg of maize. However, between 10 and 20 per cent of the maize is usually spoiled by insects and mice. 

Another option is to scrape the maize kernels off the cob and store them in large copper pots. This provides better protection for the grain, but many people cannot afford to buy the pots.

If grain is stored in sacks, these should be lifted off the floor on wooden structures and kept away from walls, so the air can circulate freely around them. Every few weeks, the sacks should be turned over. 

Grain of different ages should never be mixed, because pests and mould will spread into the newer grain. Grain stores must be thoroughly cleaned once they are empty, leaving no grain behind from the previous crop. 

Stored grain should be inspected every few weeks for signs of rodents, insect pests or mould. If damage is seen, action must be taken immediately to protect the grain from further damage.

‘Mixing grain with equal quantities of wood ash helps to prevent pests from reproducing.’

Natural insecticides

Many local plants can be used to effectively protect stored grain from insect pests. For example, neem leaves (Azadirachta), ginger roots and chillies can be dried and mixed with the grain before putting it in a storage container. 

Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum) or Mugwort (Artemisia) can be used to treat storage sacks, and neem leaves can be mixed with traditional plaster to coat the inside of a basket or other store.

Mixing grain with equal quantities of wood ash helps to prevent pests from reproducing. Small quantities of hydraulic lime can also be used. The grain must be thoroughly washed before cooking and eating.

Community grain banks

When managed well, grain banks can help communities to have a year-round supply of food. The banks, run by local committees, can buy grain when prices are low, usually around harvest time, and then sell it at a fair price when grain is in short supply later in the year.

 
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Written by  Suraj Sonar

Suraj Sonar is a Project Manager with United Mission to Nepal.

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