Vital Nduwimana hated how many tomatoes he lost every season. For years, his tomatoes started rotting just three or four days after harvest. He felt frustrated.
Mr. Nduwimana explains: “I was not able to sell all my tomatoes; I lost almost half of my production. Worse still, I would sell at a low price in the market. So in 2015, I thought that maybe I should find a tomato storage technique.”
Because vegetables spoil quickly, storing them after harvest can be a challenge. Good storage techniques mean that farmers can continue to eat nutritious vegetables long after harvest—or sell them when prices in the market are higher. But some farmers in Burundi and in Ghana are now using effective techniques to keep their tomatoes from rotting.
Mr. Nduwimana grows tomatoes in eastern Burundi, on Kabuyenge hill, five kilometres from the Tanzanian border. He stores his tomatoes in ash.
Mr. Nduwimana had tried several techniques to solve his problem—but without success. He tried storing his tomatoes in water, in clay, underground, in cartons, and even in sand. Then one day, he noticed that the tomatoes he had kept next to his banana trees, in a pile of ash, were not rotten.
He now stores his tomatoes in ash collected from a chimney and sifted three or four times to remove large residues, debris, and other foreign materials. He dumps the ash into a paper carton and places the tomatoes in the carton.
With this technique, Mr. Nduwimana safely stores his tomatoes for many months. He explains: “I keep my tomatoes in the ash for a period of five to six months, so I can sell them in December, January, or February when the price has risen—since tomatoes are rare and become expensive during this period.”
Jean Nivyabandi is an agronomist. He says using ash has no negative effect on the tomatoes, which can be consumed safely. He confirms, “There is no risk of tomato toxicity after storage in ash.” Nevertheless, the agronomist wants the Institute of Agronomic Sciences of Burundi to conduct tests to scientifically validate Mr. Nduwimana’s technique.
Farmers in Gbunlung Savelugu, in northern Ghana, are experimenting with another technique for storing tomatoes: a Zero Energy Cooling Chamber. The structure keeps fruits and vegetables cool so they can be stored longer.
The chamber features a double brick wall, and the space between the walls is filled with moist sand. As the water evaporates from the sand, the chamber remains cool. Farmers can store their vegetables in crates inside the inner wall of the chamber, keeping the top covered.
Rahinati Alhassan and Nafisa Alhassan are two women who use the cooling chamber. The 40-year-olds have tripled their vegetable production and emerged as leaders in their community.
Ms. Nafisa Alhassan says the tomatoes she can’t sell are now stored instead of spoiled, meaning she can sell them at the next market, a week later.
Ms. Nafisa Alhassan recalls: “The first time I put my hand into the chamber, it was quite a shocking feeling. It was cool inside, even though outside it was very hot. The difference the chamber makes for our vegetables is obvious and very visible. It doubles the shelf life of tomatoes, eggplants, [and] cucumbers.”
This article is based on two stories from the Barza Wire archives. Read the full stories:
Burundi: Farmer finds new technique for preserving tomatoes: http://wire.farmradio.fm/en/farmer-stories/2016/11/burundi-farmer-finds-new-technique-for-preserving-tomatoes-15454
Ghana: Farmers adopt eco-friendly zero-energy vegetable storage technique: http://wire.farmradio.fm/en/farmer-stories/2017/01/ghana-farmers-adopt-eco-friendly-zero-energy-vegetable-storage-technique-15767
Photo: Vital Nduwimana inspects a tomato // credit: Jean de Dieu Ununahazwe