food security

Managing post harvest loss another means to ensure food security

As population keeps increasing and fighting poverty becomes a top global agenda, the need to increase agricultural production has become a priority especially in developing countries like Ethiopia. For that, experts advise policy interventions that can help to increase productivity and production. Using improved technologies and increasing farm size have for long been advised to increase output. Ethiopia has been going in the same direction.

Yet, there is one thing that it was not well thought of to improve food security – managing post harvest loss. The intervention — which can be achieved without major cost — can help avoid much of the loss of output which reaches up to 50Pct in some products.  Post harvest loss for major cereal crops, except Teff, is around 24Pct in Ethiopia; the loss for oilseeds is between 15Pct and 25Pct while vegetables and fruits incur the highest loss of about 50Pct. This occurs almost at every stage of the supply chain. EBR explores the issue.

Ethiopia has been toiling on transforming its economy. It particularly invests billions of dollars from national coffer, and funds from bilateral, multilateral and non state sources to accelerate the transformation of agriculture and rural economy.

As a result, the country has managed to increase output by small scale farmers by 70Pct in the last decade alone. This has significantly helped the country’s bid for food security. However, the post-harvest loss that occurs between harvest and consumption, is casting its shadow over the country’s ambitious goal of becoming food self sufficient and a major economic powerhouse in sub Saharan Africa.

In Ethiopia, the average post-harvest loss for major cereal crops, except Teff, stands at 24Pct while the highest loss rate of 27Pct occurs on wheat, according to a study entitled ‘Post-harvest management and post-harvest losses of cereals in Ethiopia’ published in 2017 by Wageningen University and Research Centre, a Dutch public university. This means, the actual production of major cereals including barley, wheat, maize and sorghum could have been more than the 186.6 million quintals reported in 2015/16.

Teff, on the other hand, has relatively lower post-harvest loss among major cereals grown in Ethiopia, which stands at 21Pct.  The reason for the low rate of post-harvest loss for Teff, according to the study is due to the small size of the grain, which makes it resistant to insect attacks.

Grown by close to 6.6 million small holder farmers on more than 23Pct of the 12.5 million hectare of land cultivated in 2015/16, Teff holds an important role in Ethiopia’s agriculture. In the year, 44.7 million quintals of Teff reached the central market. This is a 16.6Pct increment compared with the supply in the previous year.

The annual agricultural sample survey conducted by the Central Statistical Agency indicates that part of the growth in Teff output has been mainly driven by the increase of cultivated area coupled with the use of improved seeds and input supplies. However, the increase in output produced on current acreage could have been possible if post-harvest losses were reduced significantly.

Information obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR) puts post-harvest loss for oilseeds between 15Pct and 25Pct. Vegetables and fruits have the highest loss of up to 50Pct. The high loss rate of vegetables and fruits is due to the scattered production across the country and the extended supply chain it goes through to reach the market. Their perishable nature also contributes for the loss.

Had post harvest loss been managed, millions of people would have accessed adequate food easily. The presence of enough products in the market would also stabilise the market. Agricultural experts such as A. A. Kader from University of California stress that decreasing post-harvest loss is more important than increasing the volume of agricultural production for improving food security.

According to the World Bank, 22Pct of the Ethiopians live below poverty line. The majority of these people live in rural areas and engage in agriculture and animal husbandry. So improving production in farming would have direct role in reducing poverty and improving their livelihood.

However, despite taking several measures to increase production, the country fails to meet production forecast repeatedly. In the last main (Mehir) harvesting season, while the expected agricultural production was 319 million quintals, the actual figure slipped to 291 million quintal, 91Pct of the target. While the achievement is still notable, not all of this reaches the end consumer. A significant portion of it would be lost along the vast supply chain until it reaches the market and end users.

“The main reason for failure to meet the forecast is the post-harvest loss.” explains Tewabe Chane, senior public communication expert at the MoANR. “Even though the drought continued until July 2016, productivity has been increasing due to the increased use of improved seeds and input supplies. But, the post-harvest loss has also been increasing on par with the growth of production.”

According to FAO, a post-harvest loss is defined as measurable quantitative and qualitative loss during a series of operations during and after harvest. For instance, during harvest, loss can occur if the grain is attacked by birds or pests while inadequate ventilation of grain can cause losses from the development of moulds and insects in storage.

Quantitative losses can also occur during threshing, winnowing, and drying stages. For cereals other than maize, threshing losses take place due to spillage, incomplete removal of the grain or by spoiling the cereal during threshing. Post harvest loss can also occur after threshing due to poor separation of grain from the chaff during cleaning or winnowing.

Poor storage, defective packaging and inappropriate transportation can bring about losses as well.  For all grains, storage losses can be considerable but the greatest loss appears to be of maize, particularly in developing countries like Ethiopia since losses during storage are determined by the interaction between the grain, the storage environment and a variety of organisms. On top of these, there are other factors partly responsible for post-harvest loss, including frail marketing practices and lack of legal frameworks.

Just like in many developing countries, poor management practices in Ethiopia are responsible for the post-harvest losses in agricultural commodities. In the past, the attention of the government was fully focussed on increasing productivity by reducing pre-harvest losses. However in recent years, the government has given due attention to the problem and has been acting on it.

Melkassa Agricultural Research Centre (MARC) is the only agricultural research centre actively working on post-harvest technologies currently. Ethiopia has 17 agricultural centres undertaking research on various domains. Agricultural mechanization is one of the ten programs MARC runs. The Centre is under the federal government, while the remaining operates under regional governments.

“The attention given for post-harvest technologies is better in the last two years, even though the problem has long existed,” Mulugeta Tamiru, food technologist at MARC told EBR.

When EBR visited the research centre, 117 kilometres south east of Addis Ababa, on November 13, 2017, a number of manual and engine driven cutting, threshing, harvesting, shelling, cleaning, and storing technologies developed for different crops were displayed at the centre’s workshop. “Our workshop is now active, since the perception on post-harvest loss has started to change,” said Yonas Lemma, assistant researcher at the research centre.

The Centre has been developing and adapting technologies under a three year pilot project on post-harvest management. Experts at the workshop modify and develop post-harvest technologies adopted from other countries. “The main target is developing technologies for the small scale farmers.” said Mulugeta.

Especially multipurpose threshers, hermetic bags and grain storing technology known as metal silo, are the successes of the project, according to Mulugeta. Metal silo, which was first introduced in Mexico 20 years ago, is made of galvanized metal sheet, with three to 10 quintal storage capacity. “The equipment enables to store grains free of humidity and diseases,” states Mulugeta. A metal silo with six quintal storage capacity costs ETB3,800 and serve up to 20 years.

Isayas Lemma, director of Crop Development Directorate at MoARD told EBR that 2,148 metal silos with six quintal capacity are supplied over the last two years for free.

MARC also introduced threshers and shelling technologies for major grain crops (other than Teff), harvesting machines for vegetables, storing facilities for fruits, among others. Manual threshers that operate with small horse power were also made available. The engine driven two-wheel threshers, which can also be attached to tractors or run with portable engine with the capacity of harvesting 45 quintal of maize per hour is currently under operation.

Mohammad Shanko, 35, is a father of three who cultivates wheat, haricot beans, Teff, and maize on seven hectares of land in Adami Tulu, 168 kilometres south of Addis Ababa. He is one of the few farmers who received these technologies for free. “I am producing using these technologies and as a result managed to increase productivity. The job takes months and requires hiring several daily labours.”

Currently, Mohammad harvested 20 quintals of haricot beans, 45 quintals of maize, 28 quintals of wheat and 15 quintal Teff per hectare and put the produce inside the metal silo. “The post-harvest loss is significantly reduced because of the silo.” Mohammad told EBR.

Alongside Melkassa, few private companies are also engaged in the manufacturing of agricultural equipments and machineries. Selam Hawasa Business Group is one such company that manufactures multipurpose thresher for Teff, barley, wheat and maize as well as winnowing machine for haricot beans.

Established in 2008, Selam adopted the technologies from Sasakawa Africa, an initiative that seeks solution to Africa’s food security problems. Established in 1986, the initiative is financed by Ryōichi Sasakawa, a Japanese businessman, politician, and philanthropist. According to Merid Mangesha, the company’s general manager, Selam took the technology for the production of metal silos from Melkassa and the company also won tender to supply 400 pieces of metal silos recently.

Post-harvest equipment manufacturing constitutes 26Pct of Selam’s total machineries production. However, “farmers are not buying the technologies even the metal silos because of the price.” Merid told EBR. He advises the government to subsidize the product so that it becomes affordable for average farmers.

Although Selam’s workshop is for now busy producing the 400 pieces of metal silos, they too are affected by the lack of foreign currency in the country. This exacerbates the poor capital base they start business and the lack of skilled labour in the market. “We have difficulties to import steels, machineries and engine parts.” he complains.


6th Year . December 2017 . No.56

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Ethiopian Business Review | EBR is a first-class and high-quality monthly business magazine offering enlightenment to readers and a platform for partners.



2Q69+2MM, Jomo Kenyatta St, Addis Ababa

Tsehay Messay Building

Contact Us

+251 961 41 41 41