Post-harvest losses; a risk to the food security

Every year in Zambia, farmers are losing as much as 35 per cent of their harvests. It is very annoying to toil for over four months and only to lose your harvest to weevils, large grain borers or termites. From the time they plant their crops in December, farmers keep going to their fields for various operations such as weeding, fertiliser application, spraying against pests and disease up to the point when they harvest. They spend so much time and money especially now that our kwacha is at its weakest. Many if not all inputs except for seed are imported. Once the farmer harvests, it is prudent that they look after their harvest well so that they can make money by selling quality produce. Many farmers, just like any other businessman, would not want to sell their produce immediately after harvesting because there is too much produce on the market and this impacts on the prices. According to the law of demand and supply, the more goods are supplied on the market the lower the price. This compels many farmers to hold on to their produce, to wait for the prices to start improving before they can sell their produce. It is this waiting which puts the farmers’ harvest at risk of being attacked by various post-harvest pests.

Pests in the field

At this time of the year when rains are about to stop, many farmers’ fields are attacked by pests such as termites and rodents. Termites can be so devastating and can reduce the yield from 30 per cent to as much as 100 per cent if not controlled. These will start attacking the crops even when they are young in the field and will intensify as the rains recede. Many of our farmers harvest their crops by hand and they have a tendency of heaping the maize or soybean together. If the field is infested with termites, they can eat through the heap and by the time the farmer is noticing, everything would have been destroyed. It is very easy to control termites in the field. At the time you are applying your herbicides, especially the pre-emergence, you can add a product called Fipronil (as the active ingredient). This will control the termites throughout the growing period of your crop. Many of the farmers are provided with products that have chloropyrifos as a remedy for termites. This is a temporal control as it does not last long; the farmer might need to spray several times. The challenge with most products that control termites is that they will need to be applied when the soil has some moisture for them to work effectively. However, Fipronil works well because it is not leached in the soil and it is also not systemic. It forms a protective layer in soil.

Pests control in the granary

Once the farmer has harvested his or her crop they normally store them in the granary before they do the shelling. Whilst in the granary, the crop can further be attacked by some other pests other than termites. It should be mentioned here that granaries should also be treated against termites. The same Fipronil can be applied around the poles that have contact with the soil. It should be made clear here that termites live in the ground. At this stage, the crops are also prone to attack by the weevils and large grain borers. Weevils and large grain borers can start attacking the crop while it is still in the field. Therefore, treatment of the grains after harvesting should be done immediately. These pests if not controlled can reduce your grains to mere powder. Many farmers have complained about the devastating nature of these pests. Lucky enough, there are some products that can control these pests. If the harvest has not been shelled, they can be fumigated using Aluminium phosphide tablets. It should be mentioned here that this can only be done by qualified people that are certified to do fumigation. No any other person is allowed to handle this product because it is very dangerous. It kills by releasing a gas called phosphine which will kill anything that it comes in contact with. Where fumigation has been done, snakes, rats, ants and any living thing if present will be killed. Some unethical people have been selling these tablets to unsuspecting farmers and advise them to put in bags of maize; don’t do this because you risk killing your entire family. This method of pest control should only be used by qualified people and companies with licenses.

However, there is a friendly way in which any other person can use to protect their harvests. This is by applying some crop protection products that are in powder form. There are so many powders on the market with different strengths and period of control. One product that has proven so well in controlling weevils, grain beetles as well as the large grain borer is Actellic Gold Dust (AGD). This is a powder which can be applied to grain in the bag. It gives protection for over forty-eight (48) weeks. It is very effective, easy to apply and provides the longest control with wider pests covered amongst the powders on the market. It is very important that farmers as well as those that buy grains protect them against weevils and other grain pests. By protecting their grain to remain in good marketable condition, they are adding value in that by the time they will want to sell their crops, they will fetch good money. I have always been doing this for the past ten years when I vowed never to buy mealie-meal; I use my own maize that I grow.

For now, remain safe and be mindful that COVID real; it is still with us.

This author is an Agribusiness Development Consultant.ftembo2001@gmail.com

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