Effective storage of food helps provide security and nutrition for households. It also enables food to be sold at higher market prices once the harvest period is past.
For safe storage of grains, thorough drying is essential. Mould can develop in grains that are not dried properly before storage, or that become damp during storage. Many people think this is just a nuisance, making their food taste less good. However, mouldy grains can be much more serious. They can contain chemicals known as aflatoxins. This chemical is stored in the body. It stops children from growing to their full potential and makes them less resistant to disease. It is one of the major causes of liver cancer in adults in some countries.
The main crops likely to be affected are maize and groundnuts. Research by the University of Leeds with farmers in Guinea found that several simple measures could improve the drying and storage of groundnuts, reducing aflatoxin levels by more than half. The measures included:
Hand sorting Removing mouldy and damaged groundnuts before storage.
Drying on mats Locally-produced fibre mats, rather the traditional method of spreading nuts on the ground, improved the drying process.
Sun drying Farmers were shown a simple test for dryness – shaking the seeds to listen for the nuts moving.
Natural fibre sacks Plastic or synthetic bags make grains ‘sweat’ and encourage mould. Sacks made from natural fibres, like jute, are better.
Wooden pallets Storing sacks on the floor or stones allows damp to rise. Locally made wooden pallets prevent this.
Insecticide Insect pests encourage humidity and spread fungal spores. A small quantity of insecticide sprinkled on the floor under the wooden pallets keeps pest levels low. (Neem leaves could also be used.)
Adapted from an article by Professor Wild et al, University of Leeds, the Lancet, Vol 365.
‘Truth label’ for rice
Good seed is vital for the production of rice, our staple crop. The quality of the seed makes a great difference to production. HEED, an NGO in Bangladesh, is helping provide high quality seed to poorer farmers in the North East region. They are developing a sustainable farmer-to-farmer seed exchange system. They provide training and register farmers willing to produce quality seed with a ‘truth label’! This network of seed producers has steadily increased from 5% to 30% of farmers in the 161 villages in the North East area of Bangladesh within two years.
For seed to carry the ‘truth label’, farmers have to do the following:
- Dry grains in the sun for 4–5 days.
- Check for dryness with teeth. If the seeds crack cleanly, the grains are dry.
- Preserve rice seeds in airtight glazed clay containers, plastic drums or tin containers, adding dried neem leaves or naphthalene (moth balls).
- Store the seed containers in a dry place, which does not suffer flooding. Check regularly and if necessary dry the seeds again.
Article written by AM Chashi, the Agricultural Co-ordinator with HEED Bangladesh.