October 16, 2016

17/10/2016: Storage project SI-LOW

The issue of postharvest loss of grain in sub-Saharan Africa is extremely significant, both environmentally, economically, and in terms of the welfare of the farmers who grow it.

Si-Low is a product designed to counteract this by providing an affordable way for smallholder farmers in the region to effectively store their crops for long periods of time. Si-Low aims to provide hermetic storage of grain for farmers close to the poverty line who currently cannot afford it.

Anthony Brown, Creator of Si-Low talks to Milling and Grain

I designed Si-Low for the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) Student Design Awards, an international design competition aiming to promote design for social change. I was fortunate enough to win the award, entitled “Waste not, want not”, which tasked entrants with designing a way to reduce food waste.

As a result of winning this award and the fantastic feedback and recognition that I gained from it, I am starting to turn Si-Low from a design into an actual product and launching it in sub-Saharan Africa. In this article I will explain the problem the farmers are facing, how my design aims to solve this problem, and what the future holds for the project.

Preventing postharvest loss in Sub-Saharan Africa

Postharvest loss is a significant issue, particularly in the developing world. It can occur due to a variety of reasons, and at different stages after the harvesting of a crop has taken place.

These stages include during the processing, the storage and the transporting of crops. The area I focussed on is the storage stage, where large amounts of wastage occur due to spoiling caused by improper storage conditions.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 37 percent of available food is lost in handling and storage. Such wastage can usually be avoided using techniques such as refrigeration and hermetic storage. However it is techniques like this that are often not found in the developing world because of their high cost.

The developing world, and in particular, Africa, represents a significant proportion of global food production; Sub-Saharan Africa alone accounts for 23 percent of global food production. The world relies on the crops grown in Africa and the rest of the developing world, where a much larger proportion of the population rely on farming to earn a living.

It is therefore of vital importance that such a key global food supply is as efficient as possible, particularly in a world where a global food shortage is becoming more significant with every year that passes.

Cutting postharvest losses in the developing world in the storage stage could represent a substantial improvement in food supply levels, as well as considerably improving the livelihoods and welfare of farmers.

Postharvest loss is very prevalent in grain production

Grain is a commodity, which is crucial to the economy of sub-Saharan Africa in particular, and the people that produce it. It is very commonly grown in the region, with crops such as maize, barley and wheat among the crops grown.

Postharvest loss is unfortunately very prevalent in the production of grain in the area. For example, the percentage of maize crops lost to post-harvest losses in Kenya and Tanzania reaches upwards of 25 percent. In the developed world, the growing of grain is usually undertaken on a large scale, often by large corporations and businesses.

As such, crops can be protected from postharvest loss through investment in modern technologies. In sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farmers very often grow grain, the farms are small, and are usually owned by a single family. It is these small plots of land which people in the rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa depend on.

These people live off the land and are extremely vulnerable to issues such as postharvest loss and famine. They live close to the poverty line as a result, with very small amounts of short-term capital available to them. What money they do have is spent on school for their children, food, and other basics. It is because of this that storage practices for harvested grain in the area are far from ideal.

Farmers do not have the money to invest in improved storage facilities, and so continue to use traditional methods that leave grain vulnerable to spoilage caused by disease and pests.

Grain is either stored in poly-woven bags or in traditional wicker huts, both of which are extremely vulnerable to pests, and do not produce a sealed environment to isolate the grain. To prevent losses farmers often sell all of their harvested grain on local markets straight after harvest.

This reduces waste but represents a significant reduction in potential income because the price of grain is far lower during harvest season, and so the farmers are receiving far less for the crops that they grow.

If they were able to store their grain for longer they could sell it at a much higher price and the income they receive from their land would be far greater, a potentially huge change for large families struggling to get by.

Read the full article HERE.

The Global Miller
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