Most of the people living in Kiryandongo District are commercial smallholder farmers. These farmers produce a myriad of crops, such as rice, cassava, bananas, maize, sweet potatoes, beans, ground nuts, simsim, rice and vegetables.
Other major activities carried out include livestock rearing and fishing. With an arable land of 1,747 square kilometres, Kiryandongo is among the biggest grain producers in Uganda.
According to the district commercial officer, Sam Kakumba, maize production tops crop production contributing 53,833 tonnes in 2018; cassava follows in second place with an estimated 494,415 bags in the same year.
Yet smallholder farmers, who contribute the biggest percentage, earn little income for their produce.
Most farmers do not have access to technology that can help preserve their crops after harvest or process their crops to sell at a higher price. Kakumba estimated that more than 70 per cent of farmers are forced to sell or their maize is damaged by weevils during storage.
In 2013, Mutunda Community Grain Store took up the mantle to offer effective hermetic storage with bulking services at their offices in Nyamahasa. The store receives grain from farmers and safely stores it until the price is right or a certain bulk is accumulated.
The store, which is managed by Nyamahasa United Area Cooperative Enterprises, acts as a collateral management system ensuring quality and longer life in storage.
In effect, grain farmers in Kiryandongo have minimised risks as members have steel silos with a holding capacity of about a tonne at their homes while the centre makes bulking and marketing of cereals easier.
The grain store has a capacity of 30 tonnes. Its services include grain grading, weighing, fumigation, bulking and storage. The store was a pilot project in the area under the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) in partnership with the World Food Programme, launched in 2017.
By storing their grain until the market price is high enough, farmers have benefitted from higher margins. The store intends to expand its services across the district.
There are three primary cooperatives: Nyamahasa, Oviv and Laboke Kololo, which form Nyamahasa United Area Cooperative Enterprises.
More than 100 farmers have the silos at their homes to enhance quality at the farm level instead of using the local cribs for storage.
The manager of Nyamahasa Area, Cooperative Michael Adubango, says that grain storage is an important part of cereal trade. “We encourage our farmers to harvest mature maize even when they have cash needs - we always offset any immediate needs to ensure quality maize is harvested,” he said.
Grain must at all times be kept insect-free and below the recommended moisture content.
Low temperature is an important factor in minimising insect activity and in maintenance of nutritional quality. The cooperative was driven by the desire to feed the demanding market as well as knowledge and skills in order to increase production and productivity to the farmers.
“When you have quality and quantity, you can compete,” Adubango said. After harvest, farmers are faced with a choice to either sell immediately or store.
The storage has offered farmers the choice to sell at the right price as well as lower costs as individual farmers do not need to invest in domestic storage facilities. According to Adubango, storage also saves farmers and traders alike, storage space which is suitable for storing grain for long periods. Storage services also save individual farmers from thieves, leaking roofs and fire. But to Adubango, the most important is linkages to markets.
“Here, we have a network with buyers who want large volumes for the stored grain,” he said.
Adubango says sometimes, it is important to fumigate the warehouse before grains are stored.
“We always require farmers to deliver grain free from pest infestation and we may reject any grain that is infested,” he said.
He adds that having good sanitation around the storehouse is an important procedure. The compound is slashed regularly to keep rodents away.
Most of the storage is by bulking in silos. Bulking at the store is a key activity. Bags are stacked on wooden pallets to prevent the grain from getting damp and to make pest management easy.
To avoid conflict, farmers are constantly taught about handling losses, moisture loss and removal of dirt, which sometimes reduces the weight.
At Mutunda Community Grain Store, grain is first graded before it is accepted for storage or marketing.
“We have to ensure high standards and where need be we reject some of the grain,” Adubango said of the strict quality control measures in place.
Checks at this stage normally involve moisture content which is 13 per cent for maize before the grain is weighed. Adubango explains that grain can be stored for longer periods depending on the temperature of 25°C.
With a moisture content of 13 per cent, the grain can be stored safely for 160-240 days.
He said that sometimes they control moisture from the air by aerating the grain when humidity is below 65 per cent.
“We also check for insect infestation twice a month.”
• Never let your grain touch the ground.
• After harvest, grain is not yet ready for storage.
• Grain is dry when it is below 13 per cent moisture content.
• A farmer should use the ‘salt and bottle’ test to check if the grain is dry.
• When the grain is dry, leave it under the sun for three more days.
• Removing oxygen from the silo using a burning candle will quickly kill all insects.