Reducing postharvest loss and waste among smallholder rice farmers

10Sep 2020
The Guardian
Reducing postharvest loss and waste among smallholder rice farmers

​​​​​​​IN 2017 Christopher Chahe of Idodi village of Iringa District in Iringa region lost four sacks of rice, about half of his harvest year. A good part of the loss was occasioned by a leaking roof in a room where he had stored the crop after harvesting resulting in most of the rice rotting.

Using machines like combine harvesters reduces crop loss and waste (File photo)

But mice also accounted for the loss. Poor storage has been a major problem to rice farmers that has made them suffer heavy losses and dashed their hopes of reducing poverty and attaining food sufficiency.

“We also lost a good part of the crop due to waiting for good prices in the market but in due course poor storage damaged the crop and reduced its quality. Eventually we ended up selling a small amount of rice at a very low price,” says Chahe.

However three years down the road things have changed. Rice farmers in Idodi village, all of whom are members of the village’s irrigation scheme,now store their crop in one warehouse which is secure and safe thanks to the RICE project that is funded by the European Union and implemented by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Tanzania (FAO Tz) in partnership with the Rural and Urban Development Initiative (RUDI) and smallholder rice farmers.

The Project for improving competitiveness and increasing postharvest management capacity of smallholder farmers in the rice value chain (RICE) is implemented in 12 schemes of smallholder farmers inIringa District.It aims to reduce poverty among farmers by building their capacity to withstand competition in production and marketing.

In Iringa District and indeed in many parts of Tanzania, rice is grown largely by smallholder farmers who face a number of challenges in thevarious stages of production.

One of them is postharvest losses arising from bad harvesting and storage methods as well as poor infrastructure. Poor storage and transportation of the crop also account for substantial losses.

A briefing paper by FAO estimated that about 40 percent of the rice crop is lost in the postharvest period.It is also evident that farmers lack collective power for accessing markets and bargaining for good prices for their produce as a result of which they have remained poor over the years despite their hard work.

The RICE Project thus focuses on building the capacity of the smallholder farmers and other stakeholders in the rice value chain in order to enable them to identify and address these challenges by using inclusive approaches that bring together all the partners including government and private sector.  The ultimate aim is to reduce rural poverty by improving competitiveness among smallholder rice farmers in Iringa District.

It also seeks to increase competitiveness in the rice value chain and improve the capacity to reduce postharvest losses among the farmers by strengthening the managerial capacities of smallholder farmers’ cooperative associations and strengthening innovative, sustainable and inclusive market systems. Postharvest losses will also be reduced by provision and rehabilitation of facilities and coordination of activities along the rice value chain.

“Now we keep our harvest in the warehouse where it is safe and we can thus afford to wait for prices to get better instead of selling in a hurry at a low price for fear of incurring losses through damage and waste. We are also in a better position to bargain directly with buyers as we have got rid of middlemen” says Chahe

The project goals also rhyme with FAO Tz’s 2017-2020 Country Programming Framework, the priority areas of which include increasing agricultural production and productivity for food and nutrition security as well as improving market access for increased incomes.

The significant improvement in rice production and productivity has been attained through a number of things. One of them has been public education and awareness among farmers to enable to understand not only the importance of using better farming methods at every stage of growing rice but also the improved economy that would see them reduce poverty at individual and family level.

Traditional farming methods also led to poor land use that became unproductive in the long run. Framers also used plenty of low quality seeds that produced a small amount of crop while poor storage facilities exposed the crop to rain, mice and insects. It was imperative to take action that would make rice farming more productive and address poverty at individual and family level. 

Things began to change for the better in 2018 after farmers had been provided, loans, education on new farming technologies and better storage of the harvest. These provided incentives for women and the youth to turn to rice farming as their major activity. “Now farmers don’t have to run around looking for buyers and neither have buyers to move from one individual farmer to another in order to get the amount of rice they need and negotiate for prices; they simply go the warehouse where they will get the amount of rice they want at a price agreed upon by farmers,” explains the village executive officer.

“We have about 3,000 rice farmers here. Almost all of them have abandoned traditional farming methods and adopted new ways from preparation of farms, planting, weeding, harvesting and storing the crop. No wonder a farmer can now harvest an average of between 16 and 20 bags of rice from one hectare, up from only six bags three years ago,” explains Felix Tulianje, the Village Executive Officer.

The village is now finalizing plans to install a rice milling machine in order to add value to the rice crop and thus get better prices in the market. By installing and subsequently using the machine farmers in Idodi village will have a competitive edge over other rice producers in the district in negotiating better prices due to value addition. This is besides the advantage of their ability to negotiate prices with one voice and thus avoiding vulnerability to tricks employed by buyers to individual producers.

As the project draws the curtain in December this year, individual farmers and cooperatives have recorded significant success in raising incomes and alleviating poverty “In total, there are at least 10,000 beneficiaries including smallholder women, men and youth from 11 groups. There are processors and other actors in rice value chain,” explains Annaviola Walter who works with RUDI as business advisor to the RICE project.

“About 2,896 farmers, 41percent of whom are women, have successfully managed to apply proper postharvest management methods while 46 women and 9 youth groups have identified and implemented various income generating activities along the rice value,” she adds. Such activities include provision of harvesting and transporting crops from farms to storage facilities.

A total of 11 schemes out of 12 have improved their record keeping and accounts in rice production process while1794 farmers from different villages and organizations have been trained on proper postharvest, storage and marketing methods for rice.

“And in order to guarantee safety and security of crops stored in warehouses, the project has trained 13 Warehouse Managers on proper warehouse management methods and linked buyers from Dodoma, Dar es Salaam, Iringa and Mbeya regions with farmer organizations in order to increase competitiveness in the rice trade. Reducing postharvest losses and waste goes beyond proper storage,” says Ms. Walter.

With increased awareness of the need to raise productivity and reduces losses and waste, farmers in Idodi now bring their crops for storage in the warehouse where they pay only 1,000/- for every bag of rice for as long as it remains in the warehouse. “The warehouse accommodates only about 3,000 bags of rice and it is already full, with the harvest season not over. We expect to get ten tons this season, which means we will have to store the crop in warehouses that belong to other villages,” Ibrahim Kisegendo, the warehouse manager.

Some individuals produce as many as 48 bags of rice from one hectare and this has not gone down well with their neighbours. “This has brought contempt and soured up relations; those who produce a lot are suspected of using witchcraft although it is well known that they following instructions given by agriculture experts,” says the warehouse manager.

Nevertheless, the project has faced challenges at its implementation. Some farmers are still stuck to traditional farming methods despite the low yields they are experiencing.Others were reluctant to store their harvest in the village warehouses because they were worried about the safety of their crop. “The warehouses were used to keep old machinery and impounded livestock that ventured into farms. In some villages they were used as lockups for suspected criminals before they were taken to police stations. But now that awareness is high and rice production has increased there isn’t enough space in the warehouses to accommodate all the rice crop,” says the Business Advisor.

The project has introduced new agriculture machinery to smallholder farmers and many of them have adopted it. These machines help to reduce waste and crop losses during planting, weeding, harvesting and transportation to warehouses. The demand for these machines has risen drastically in the period of project implementation but supply is so low. “This is one problem we have to deal with in remaining period of the project. We have to establish a reliable supply chain that will meet the farmer’s demands,” says Ms. Walter.

According to Ms. Walter another major challenge facing farmers now is lack of market for their crop. “This year has been particularly good for rice farmers in the country with the result that the market is flooded with goods. At present many buyers have gone to Shinyanga Region where farmers have had a bumper crop and very few are coming to this part of the country. The prices are still very low and it might take quite some time to pick up,” she explains

Yet the future is bright for smallholder farmers in Iringa District. Those who have taken part in implementing the RICE project have reaped benefits that were beyond their reach. Village and scheme leaders know how to look for markets and negotiate good prices for agriculture inputs and their crops, and they know how to reduce waste and avoid postharvest losses of their crop. “In the course of implementing this project individuals have raised their incomes by 70 percent on average. Others have raised their incomes by more than 100 percent so none of them would want to slide back to previous poverty levels,” says Ms. Walter.

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