21 September 2018
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Sunday, 04 March 2018 14:09

Hermetic Bags: The farmers’ magic storage technology

Written by  Trouble Ziba

Lilongwe, March 4, 2018: Hermetic Bags storage technology is already being touted the most effective storage methodology compared to others that are being used by the country’s farmers, but it is yet to reach a majority of smallholder farmers who are the country’s chief producers of the staple grain, maize.

This is why Feed the Future-Malawi, through Farm Radio Trust (FRT), on Wednesday organized a day-long media training for journalists in Lilongwe to assist in the dissemination of information to farmers on the use of Hermatic Bags in storing their grain crops.

The Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) Bag storage is one such example of Hermetic Bags technology that farmers in the country are strongly encouraged to adopt.

“PICS Bags grain storage technology is safe, cost-effective and that it maintains the taste of the grain,” said Charles Singano, a Scientist in Post-Harvest Losses in the Ministry of Agriculture in his presentation ‘The status of post-Harvest losses in Malawi’.

PICS Bags, popularly known as ‘the Magic Bag’ grain storage technology, was introduced about three years ago in Malawi, to reduce post-harvest losses of crop produce, especially the grains.

According to Singano, most farmers in the country incur significant loss of their grain crops after harvest. He said according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the loss is now at 15.7 per cent on average.

He said such a loss is despite farmers’ application of chemicals, some even twice or thrice, to their grain in a bid to save it.

The PICS Bags are non-chemical, tripple layer bags made from high density material. They were developed by Purdue University in the United States of America (USA) with USAID funding, as a low-cost solution to post-harvest losses of grain.

Of the common grain storage methods commonly used by farmers such as fumigation and application of chemical dust to grain, the scientist was skeptical about their safety, saying there is a possibility of negatively affecting one’s health.

“As for fumigation method, it is not fit for the traditional farmer. It requires special equipment and professionals with some training in fumigation. The [untrained] farmer may handle dangerous chemicals lightly,” he observed.

He said the PICS Bag kills the weevil or large grain borer (LGB) by suffocation.
Singano explained that before putting the grain inside the bag, one is supposed to squeeze it to remove air. He said when filling the bag with grain, which should be well dried and clean, one should also ensure there is as little air as possible inside the bag.

When that is done, each of the layers of the bag is tied tightly beginning with the inner-most layer, ending with the outer one.

This leaves the PICS Bag airtight, meaning that there is no exchange of gases between the surrounding of the bag and the inside. The little oxygen which was trapped inside the bag gets depleted in a short time by the respiring pest (weevil or large grain borer) that went into the bag together with the grain, thus they die.

A farmer who is Senior Group Village Headman Chaphsyinja in Traditional Authority Masula in Mitundu-Lilongwe, attested to the effectiveness of the PICS Bags grain storage method.
“Even when the maize is treated with chemicals, rodents will make holes into the ordinary bag because they can smell the maize, but not with PICS Bags.

“If all Malawians had PICS Bags for maize storage, we would be blessed because you can use them (the PICS Bags) several times,” said Senior Group Village Headman Chaphsyinja.

The PICS Bags can store grain such as maize, beans, rice, ground nuts, soya, cow peas and groundnuts up to 10 years as long as the bags are not punctured, according to Macdonald Mbalule, a Feed the Future- Malawi media consultant.

However, he said the technology has only been in few districts in Mchinji, Dowa and Lilongwe in the Central Region. In Southern Region farmers have used it in Chikwawa, Nsanje and Blantyre through projects implemented by NASFAM, CADECOM and CRS.

Senior Radio Programs Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture’s Extension Services, Excello Zidana, was at pains that the new grain storage technology was yet to reach a majority of smallholder farmers.

“There are several ways of getting it down to the farmers; it could be through radio programs and adverts. It could also be through training senior agriculture extension workers.

“These would then train others down the ladder up to the grassroot farmers in a multiplier-effect format,” said Zidana.


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