Despite grain storage in sub-Saharan Africa being one of the key leaking points in the harvested cereal’s supply chain, several interventions are being rolled out to reduce post-harvest losses to at least 50% as governments in the region strive to achieve the 2014 Malabo Declaration target set by African Union member-countries.

Analysis by various agencies show sub-Saharan Africa loses an average of 13.5% of the harvested grain at the post-harvest phase, which is equivalent to nearly $4 billion every year and which the International Finance Corporation said in October “exceeds the value of total food aid in that region over the last decade.”

Africa has an estimated 98.6 million hectares dedicated to grain with a large share being sorghum, millet, wheat, corn and rice. The acreage produces an average of 162 million tonnes with corn and sorghum occupying the largest portion of the land.

The African Development Bank said Africa’s grain yield is less than 50% of the world’s average production. Shortfalls of key cereal commodities such as wheat and rice has left the region with a high import bill that can only be reduced by scaling up production and lowering the post-harvest losses.

Imports soaring

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service in April predicted an increase in wheat imports in Nigeria, Tanzania, Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and South Africa in addition to other smaller markets such as Ghana and Mauritania. The projections, if they come to pass, will assure sub-Saharan Africa’s position in the world as the region with strongest year-over-year import growth.

“Over the last decade as a whole, sub-Saharan Africa has been a major driver of rising global wheat trade,” said the USDA, which identifies stagnant production and rapid consumption growth as the main drivers behind the increasing import bill.

“Consumption is escalating on long-term trends of urbanization, rising incomes, and population growth,” the USDA said.

South Africa, which experienced a devastating drought that wiped out a huge chunk of the wheat crop, will see its grain imports go up 60% in the 2017-18 marketing year, according to the USDA.

In Ethiopia, grain imports will increase 70% on the back of government buying of the commodity meant to “meet growing demand and rebuilding wheat stocks.”

Similar grain shortfalls and anticipated growth in imports are expected in Kenya, which is projected to import 30% more of grains, or 2.3 million tonnes, mainly because of “rapid consumption growth and expansion in milling capacity.”

Angola and Tanzania also are expected to import 1.2 million tonnes and 1.1 million tonnes of grain, respectively, to meet local consumption with import levels in Nigeria and Sudan projected to go up 5% and 6%, respectively.

Reliance on grain imports by sub-Saharan countries to meet the region’s grain shortfalls poses a food security risk that has seen governments in the region, development agencies, private sector and producers partner in rolling out initiatives to reduce any grain losses during the post-harvest phase with a focus on improving the quantity and quality of on-farm and off-farm permanent and temporal grain storage facilities.

Programs to boost storage

In Zambia, the government is stepping up campaigns to woo private sector firms and individual business to invest in the storage facilities owned by the Zambian Agricultural Commodities Exchange (ZAMACE), a private limited liability company that operates Zambia’s sole commodities exchange. It is owned by various stakeholders in the agricultural sector to structure commodity market mechanisms in the landlocked country so as to lower transaction costs, increase awareness of available market information and boost confidence among producers and commodity traders.

“The important thing about ZAMACE is that farmers will secure their crops in the warehouse and be given a receipt, which entails that the farmer will not be in a panic mode to sell,” said Jacob Mwale, executive director of ZAMACE. “The warehouse receipt is a document equivalent to title for land and, similarly, it can be used to borrow money and buying of inputs.”

Some of the those with ZAMACE certified grain storage facilities include South Africa-based AFGRI, which buys grain directly from farmers before aggregating it for sale; ETG, a global integrated agricultural supply chain group; and Zambia-based NWK Agri Services Ltd., Zdenakie Ltd. and CHC Commodities Ltd.

The ZAMACE storage initiative also has attracted participation of banks such as First National Bank, Stanbic, and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Other partners include Zambia National Farmers Union, Grain Traders Association of Zambia, Millers Association of Zambia, World Food Programme and USAID Profit+.

But in Kenya and South Africa, grain storage has taken a new approach as governments and private sector players target scaling up of improved storage technology to retain high quality of stored grain and ward off attacks from insects such as beetles, mites and weevils.

New gains have been made in reducing post-harvest losses and improving of food security in Kenya with the introduction of on-farm temporal storage using 90 kg to 100 kg hermetic bags that are made from biodegradable plastic material. The bags have air tight conditions that inhibit thriving of any insects and suppresses any micro flora activity that encourages growth of aflatoxin and moisture loss.

The storage bags, an initiative supported by governments in East Africa with the backing of USAID, are also cost-effective and easily available through agri-dealers spread across rural areas and non-governmental organizations that sell them for 80¢ to $1.25 per bag to last two to three harvest seasons.

“The combined value of the reduction in the loss of weight (4.5 kgs) more than makes up for the additional cost of the bag within the first season,” said USAID in one of its previous product reports. It said farmers using hermetic bags to store grains have achieved cost savings as shown in the table on page 94.

USAID said previous scientific studies on the hermetic bags “saw aflatoxin levels in corn in different areas grow by an average of 24% to 92% a month when stored in traditional polypropylene bags commonly used by smallholder farmers in East Africa.”

A similar grain storage initiative has been rolled out in South Africa under a partnership between the country’s agricultural specialist Rhino Plastics, an affiliate of Rhino Group and Greece-based Plastika Kritis, a global maker of master-batches and agricultural films.

Under the partnership, Hitec bags are available at several sites in South Africa to ease storage of grains and oilseeds such as legumes, wheat, corn, rice, sorghum, soybeans and oats.

Kritis said the bags allow for the grain to be “loaded in the bag directly from the harvester or from a truck and be stored safely for up to two years.”

The Hitec Bag creates a hermetic environment that promotes oxygen depletion and simultaneous carbon dioxide due to the respiratory process of the biotic components inside the bag (grain, fungi, insects), said Kritis, which has in its portfolio eight hitec manufacturing plants in seven countries and a market footprint in 50 countries.

“The new atmosphere, rich in carbon dioxide and poor in oxygen, suppresses, deactivates, or reduces not only the reproduction and/or development capacity of insects and fungi but also the grain’s own activity thus facilitating its preservation,” Kritis said.

Brian van Niekerk, managing director at Rhino Group, said the partnership between his company and Kritis “has significance for the local market in terms of better value — it also offers the industry a far superior product.”

“The bags boast a trademarked, seven-layered barrier film, dramatically increasing the strength of the bags, while more importantly reducing the oxygen permeability of the film,” he said.

New program in Nigeria

In the West Africa sub-region, Nigeria, which according to a government report in January has grain supply demand in excess of 25 million tonnes annually, is implementing the Concession of Grain Storage Facilities program to support ongoing efforts to reduce post-harvest grain losses.

At least 24 grain silo complexes were earmarked for being contracted to the private sector between 2014 and 2017 “to increase storage utilization and the efficiency of grain trading and post-harvest services,” according to a project brief by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission in the Office of the President.

Each of the silo complexes has a concrete block fence, silo bins (flat bottom), weigh bridge, grain dryer, grain cleaner, grain bagging plant, truck parking area, and adjacent land for future expansion, according to the Commission.

The program envisages contracting of the silo complexes to private sector operators who will allow grain producers, traders, and processors “to use the handling and storage facilities in the silo complex for a fee” under a system Nigeria refers to as post-harvest handling and storage services.

In mid-2017, the government picked 22 private firms as preferred bidders for the concession and leasing of the grain storage facilities across Nigeria. A total of 28 private companies had been issued with Request for Proposals.

The Commission said Nigeria opted to support private sector involvement in grain storage to overcome post-harvest grain handling challenges such as lack of financing for maintenance of the facilities, erratic power supply and non-maintenance of generator sets, and the absence of a competitive market in grain storage in Nigeria that has been blamed for the non-market determined tariffs for storage.

The emerging partnership among sub-Saharan Africa governments, development agencies, private sector and grain producers to reduce post-harvest grain losses through rolling out of efficient storage systems is expected to save the region billions of dollars in grain imports, enhance food security and improve also incomes for both commercial and small-scale farmers.