Crop Loss Tackling Under Whelms

Dereje Digaffe (above, pictured) was winnowing the raw wheat to separate the grain from the chaff, winnowing is part of crop processing during the port harvest season, and it is locally called mabearyet.

Fortune staff writer

Depending heavily on annual rainfall, the farming community of Ada’a Woreda have grown teff, wheat, lentils and beans, for both commercial and home consumption purposes for generations.

The scene marks the start of the post-harvest season, which happens once a year in these parts of Ada’a Woreda, which extends from Dukem to Bishoftu (Debre Zeit).

Farmers had already started threshing their crops when Fortune visited parts of the woreda on Tuesday December 2, 2014. Threshing, locally known as wukia, takes place on the wudema, a piece of land cleaned and coated with cow dung.

That Tuesday many farmers had gone to attend the funeral of a village elder. But the two brothers, Dereje and Asnake Digaffe, 26 and 28 years old, were busy with the wukia of their wheat crop, which they had grown on one qert, a quarter of a hectare of land. They expected to get five to seven quintals of wheat.

“Our main challenge is wastage during the threshing, as the wudma is too small,” said Dereje, the younger brother, who started farming with his father six years ago, after failing the eighth grade national exam.

Post-harvest steps include harvesting, handling, storage, processing, packing and transportation of the grain. Of the crops, teff suffers the most wastage during the process. Up to 26pc is lost, with maize following losing 23.3pc. Barley and bean lose 18.9pc and 19.6pc, respectively, according to Central Statistics Agency (CSA) data. The loss of wheat is 13.8pc and sorghum loses just 10.9pc.

The production of cereals and pulses has increased from 211 million quintal in 2010/11 to 222 million quintals the following year. Last year 240 million quintals was produced.

During the current fiscal year, 14.1 million hectares of land was cultivated with cereal and pulses, with an expectation of 280 million quintals of crop being produced. Teff has the major share, with 3.2 million hectares and an expected yield of 44.2 million quintals, while maize follows with two million hectares and an expected yield of 65 million quintals. Wheat comes next, with 1.6 million hectares and an expected yield of 39.3 million quintals.

“Beyond the small plot used for processing, high wind and the animals are major reasons for the waste,’’ said Dereje. “The oxen used in the process eat the crop and they push the crop out from the Wudema.”

“The major problem is that post-harvest technology has been given little emphasis, both by farmers and the government,’’ says research by Shemels Admasu, a food technologist with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR).

A sense of disappointment at the post-harvest losses is also felt by Worku Mekonen, 74, a father of 10 who had been farming a 1.5ha land in Hude Kebele, located approximately two kilometres off the main Addis Abeba-Djibouti road.

Worku is one of the farmers in Hude Kebele of Ada’a Woreda, in the East Shoa zone of Oromia Regional State. The kebele has an estimated population of 4,412, according to the Kebele’s administration. The farming community makes up 865 households, of which 182 are female-led. Farmers in Hude have as much as a couple of hectares of land. Many have one or two qert, and rent additional plots to produce ada’a magna teff, a type of teff that the community claims is better.

“The regional agricultural bureau is doing nothing for us to control crop waste during the post-harvest. They are supporting during the pre-harvest and harvest seasons by providing us improved seeds, fertilisers and assistance,’’ said Worku.“As I am too old, I would like to have simple machines to process crops to take less time and power.’’

“We advise the farmers to avoid losses,’’ said Belay Chala, a Development Agent (DA) in the Hude Kebelle, admitting that there was little support for reducing the losses.

During the current fiscal year the government made supports for the farmers in the pre harvest and harvest season. It distributed 8.5 million quintals of fertiliser, 841,000ql of improved seeds and 33,000 pieces of equipment that help the farmers sow seeds and 2,000 other pieces of equipment that help farmers put fertilisers in the farm. However, the Ministry only provides farmers with training in the post-harvest season.

“The main solution to avoid losses during the post-harvest is to motivate farmers to use modernised equipment, such as a harvesting combiner,’’ said Tesfaye Mengste, director general for Agriculture Extension Services at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).

Tesfaye mentioned that the 500 combiners owned by private investors could be used by farmers. These owners charge farmers 45 Br to 69 Br per quintal for processing. The price varies depending on the areas and the owners of the combiners.

According to the MoA, in the current harvest season 13.1 million hectares of land has been cultivated by 13 million farmers. From the total crop, 60pc has already been harvested; the remaining 40pc is expected to be harvested by the end of December, 2014.

The current harvest season is expected to show an increase in yield of 20pc from the last fiscal year, according to both the MoA and the CSA. This forecast is a source of hope for some farmers in the Hude Kebelle who are frustrated by crop loss during the post-harvest season. The Ministry is expecting 300 million quintals of major crops, exceeding last year’s total yield of 254 million quintals.

On the same day on December 2, 2014 in Mendello Kebele Alemnesh Girma, another farmer with two children, was assisting her teenage relative. She showed her relative, Habtamu Asalefe, how he should let the oxen walk on the wheat, one way used by the farmers to separate the crop and the waste. They were processing wheat they had collected from one qert, which takes three days. On average, the traditional process takes four days for wheat and seven days for teff that is collected from one qert.

Alemnesh has been farming with her husband for the last 13 years on the two qert plot of land which her husband inherited from his family. In addition to the two qerts, they rented eight additional qerts and harvested teff and wheat. She was assisting Habtamu because her husband, Addisu Worqu, was sowing teff on their farm early, as the National Meteorology Agency warns farmers to collect their crops early because weather forecasts had shown there will be rain by the end of December.

“The loss occurs during the transportation of the crop from the farm land to the storage area where it is processed,’’ she said. “Past experience has shown us between 30Kg and 50Kg of crop collected from one qert is wasted during processing.’’

The MoA deployed Farmer Training Centres (FTC) at all kebeles with three agents specialised in natural resource, crop and livestock to assist and train the farmers individually, and in groups, before, during and after the harvest season.

“A great effort is needed to generate technology that minimises losses,’’ suggests Shemels.

An expert from, the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) shared Shemels’s view that “the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), the autonomous body of the government under the MoA, should work on the development of small equipment that can help the farmers process crops in a shorter time while avoiding loss,’’ he said.

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