Bag it up: Crop bags to store harvests

Wednesday February 11 2015

 

By Henry Mulindwa

After registering good harvests, many farmers are faced with a dilemma of storing their yields safely as all cannot be consumed or purchased at the same time.
Due to lack of enough stores and storage facilities, some farmers are seen storing their produce such as maize, beans, cowpeas among others in bags, sheds and under their beds, which are not ideal places to keep the produce safe from pests and other contaminations.
Normally after a harvest, supplies peak and prices are low. This is the worst time for any famer to sell their produce, but many have little choice. Sell for less or lose everything becomes the farmer’s slogan.
Faced with such challenges, many farmers do not want to risk storing their produce. Instead, they sell them at harvest time when the prices are very low.
For fear of pests, some farmers use pesticides, which some health experts, say are harmful to people’s lives and can cause diseases.
But with Purdue Improved Crop Storage (Pics) bags, farmers will no longer suffer with their harvests as the method provides cheap and easy storage technology.
According to Edward Ssekindu, financial services specialist, Clusa Uganda, which introduced Pics bags in the country, the triple layer bag protects harvests, especially grains from infections and losses during storage.
He says the innovation was done in 2007 by researchers at Purdue University, US, who teamed up with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Demonstration
The researchers found out that grains stored in airtight containers prevent the development of weevil larvae that feed on the dried grains, preserving the crop for more than a year.
Ssekindu says, before Pics bags also known as farmer’s silo were introduced in Uganda in February 2014, a testing was done in West African countries such as Burkina Faso and Nigeria. They were found to be effective when it comes to storing harvests.
“According to tests which were done in West Africa, it was discovered that this kind of storage can be used to keep cowpeas, beans, maize, millet and other grains for a period of about a year or more safely and effectively,” he says.
The bags were introduced via a pilot scheme in Kiryandongo, Apac and Dokolo.
During the first demonstration, the farmers were taught how to use the bags and later asked to store a crop of their choice for at least four months.
After which they open them at a gathering so that their fellow farmers can witness how the bags can be effective at addressing the problem of storage insect pests.
“The farmers opened their bags from July to September and found out that the crops were safe and not contaminated thus proving this method to be very useful,” Ssekindu adds.
Anthony Mugisha, a farmer from Kiryandongo, who participated in the first demonstration. He stored maize for five months without using chemicals.
He believes using Pics bags to store crops will help farmers to improve their income as it will give them the power to determine when to sell their harvests.
“Due to lack of good stores and enough money to buy chemicals during the time of harvesting, we have been selling our crops cheaply to consumers and other dealers for fear of incurring losses, but this innovation will help us to keep our crops and be able to sell them at our convenient time,” Mugisha says.
“Once you follow the recommended procedures, a farmer will be able to store his or her crops safely without using chemicals for a long period of time,” Ssenkindu adds.

Benefits
Pics bags provides an affordable and flexible storage option to farmers, especially those without money to buy chemicals or those who do not want to apply chemicals in their produces.
Aloysius Byamugisha, a farmer from Dokolo says, the new storage technology ensures food security, especially to the farming households since farmers can use them to keep dried food over long periods of time rather than selling off their harvests cheaply in fear of pest damage and buying back the same from traders at times of scarcity at higher prices.
“Immediately after harvest, prices are very low hence farmers can keep grains for three to four months and sell at better prices without fear of quality deterioration,” he says.
This type of storing crops provides a safe way to store grains as compared to the dangerous chemicals that are normally used by the farmers and traders to prevent insect pest attacks.
“Some countries and international organisations who buy our crops such as maize, beans and other grains have on different occasions threatened to reduce on the price of crops stored using chemicals than those which are chemical free,” Byamugisha adds.
Selling chemical-free crops, especially abroad, will enable Uganda crops to compete favourably with those from other countries such as Kenya who are using this method of storing crops.
Pics bags can also be adopted by schools, prisons and other institutions that purchase produce in plenty. The bags are currently being sold at Shs7,000 and can be used for a period of about four years. Each can store a quantity of up to 100 kilogrammes.

How the pics bag works
The bag is made of two liners high density polyethylene which is impermeable and one layer of double woven propylene sac.
Pics bags are airtight storage bags where the two polyethylene liners if properly sealed, cut off air supply from the outside, the oxygen inside the bag is used during metabolism and carbon dioxide released accumulates inside the bag.
“Before storing crops, one should ensure that the yields are very dry and clean. Remove all the debris from the harvests. Drying before storage may help to reduce the initial rate of infestation,” advises Hosea Jemba, communications consultant, Clusa.
After preparing the harvests, the farmer should take the three pics bags apart and check the two inner bags for holes and tears.
Pour a small amount of crops into the inner bag. This will help to easily insert the first bag into the second.
Insert the first polyethylene bag into the second bag and make sure that there are no air pockets at the bottom.
Insert the two polyethylene bags into the woven polyethylene bag, fold over the top of the woven polyethylene bag and do the same with the second bag as well.
Fill the inner bag with more crops and shake gently to reduce the pockets of air and make sure that there is no grain gets between the bags.
Fill the bag far enough so that a lip remains for tying and pack the grain tightly to remove air.

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