Soon after completing his secondary school education in 1998, Richard Nyasulu ventured into farming. Yet, each year, he was losing his grain, thereby reducing his gains.
Today, he is singing a better story, with a grain bank that brings together 4 000 farmers in his Bwengu community in Mzimba.
â€œMy sweat was just going down the drain, with post-harvest pests wreaking havoc. Rodents were heavily depleting my harvest,â€ says Nyasulu.
As if that was not enough, due to improper storage, the maize was not weighing as much as it should which meant he would incur losses at the market.
Sharing Nyasuluâ€™s story is Isaac Nyaika from Traditional Authority Nkaloâ€™s area in Chiradzulu.
Said Nyaika: â€œIn the past, the harvests were good, but we would still have post-harvest losses.”
Then a grain bank was set up in our village and now we are able to treat our harvested crops properly before taking the produce to the market during the lean period.â€
Before the grain bank was set up in 2008, Nyaikaâ€”who harvests about one tonne of maize each yearâ€”and other villagers would keep their maize in granaries without proper treatment or fumigation.
Recent statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that 12.5 percent of grain produced in Malawi is lost through improper post-harvest handling.
According to Rosebell Mbamba, food security coordinator at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), it is important that smallholder farmers keep their maize well.
Currently, FAO established six grain banks in high-production areas of Bwengu in Mzimba, Mvera in Dowa, Kapiri in Mchinji, Zaone in Zomba and Nkalo in Chiradzulu.
â€œWe noted that a lot of maize was being lost in these highly productive areas. The farmers were not treating their maize properly,â€ said Mbamba, adding that FAO set up the first bank in 2010.
According to her, the grain banks help farmers not only to keep their produce for food but also to generate income.
Nyaika agrees that the banks have helped him in more ways than storing his maize.
â€œFor two bags of maize, I can get a bag of fertiliser when I need it,â€ says Nyaika.
But farmers cannot successfully store maize and other grains if they are not empowered. That is why FAO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture through the Pesticide Control Board, has been training farmers from the six community grain banks.
The boardâ€™s acting registrar Tony Maulana says it was necessary to train the farmers so that when they go back to their areas, they can properly store their produce.
â€œWe are dealing with post-harvest losses here! The farmers must have practical as well as theoretical knowledge on how they can handle their produce. For one, they must know the factors that increase pest population and reduce their grain,â€ says Maulana.
He says some of the problems that lead to post-harvest losses are high moisture content, the large grain borer and the long-snout weevil.
â€œThat is why we advise farmers to dry their maize properly. If they recycle bags of maize, they must put the sacks in hot water so that pests and eggs from the previous season are killed,â€ he adds.
Apart from that, he urges the farmers to visit their storage sites often and use pesticides that are not beyond the expiry date.