Tuesday July 30 2013

Harnessing post-harvest handling gains

By Othman Semakula

For any farmer to realise his dream of gaining from commercial agriculture, there must be starters, which include acquiring land, a key factor of production.

However, the key component here comes at the end and this is the acquisition of the market for the goods.

Worth noting is that farmers mostly spend most during planting and harvesting periods.

Much as quality is a requisition in the agricultural production chain, post- harvest handling of commodities becomes more critical in determining standards and quality.

Post-harvest handling involves the management of commodities before they are processed, which include drying, storage, protection against pests and moisture regulation.

It is a significant step that requires quality control processes, which are key in the products’ market competitiveness.

The benefits of modern post-harvest handling are many, but the extent as to how Ugandans appreciate this process must be emphasized to achieve required standards.

Mr Chris Baine, a senior consultant with CORONET Group, a regional business advisory and structured trade and agricultural financing consultancy, says observation of modern post-harvest handling practices remains a challenge that is eluding many Uganda farmers.

Mr Baine says information available with the Grain Council of Uganda indicates that 40 per cent of the total grain volumes locally produced is lost as a result of poor post-harvest handling, this means that the percentage loss in produce further translates into lost revenues.

Most of the poor post-harvest handling practices are reflected in irresponsible grain drying where grains are just spread on bare ground, poor storage and pest control among others.

These problems, Mr Baine says can be mitigated if Uganda puts in place an enforceable grain policy.

“Quality is a paramount consideration in marketing of agricultural commodities, today’s buyers only offer reasonable prices is there is guaranteed value,” he says.

Escalates poor post-harvest handling
Mr Baine says there should be consistent information flow to bridge the technological gap that exists among the farming communities.

He says if agriculture is to adequately serve as a benchmark for the country’s socio-economic transformation, Uganda needs to copy farming systems in Tanzania where cooperatives have played a big role in the promotion of agriculture.

“Farmer groups are easy to educate and help on quality assurance issues , can command a critical mass needed for attracting financing using their produce as collateral, negotiating better prices for inputs, yet once they pool their produce, they can accumulate enough volumes (tonnage) to enhance their bargaining powers, thus increased benefits,” he explains.

Light at the end of the tunnel
Mr Frederick Mugerwa, the Grain Council of Uganda chief executive officer concurs with Baine’s concerns, saying that challenges constraining the progress of the local grain industry are many but none of them is insurmountable especially if there is a cordial working relationship between government and the private sector.

According to Mr Mugerwa, the Grain Council responds to challenges that affect farmers.

This, he says is collaborated by a number of institutions including the ministries of Trade and Agriculture in order to formulate a Grain Policy upon which the industry must be legally guided.

Ms Annet Nakawunde, the executive director of Finance Trust, a local Micro Deposit-taking Institution says organising the agriculture production chain will assist to develop the general outlook of the agricultural financial sector as well as equipping banks with enough safeguards when it comes to dealing with farmers especially in connection to loans.