It is a sunny Sunday afternoon and Violet Mguni is busy shelling maize. She sits in the shade, mixing maize kernels with wood ash to protect them from weevils and grain borers.
Mrs. Mguni farms in Fort Rixon, in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North province. Here, farmers can lose 20% to 50% of stored grain to these pests.
Pests and moulds can destroy stored maize—and farmers’ profits—which is why post-harvest practices are important. Mrs. Mguni is using wood ash as an affordable and effective method to prevent pests, while farmers in Ghana have learned how to build quality warehouses to keep their maize dry—and their profits high.
Mrs. Mguni has greatly reduced her post-harvest losses since she started using wood ash. She explains, “It’s all at no cost. I only have to harvest the leadwood from the nearby bushes and burn it. The ash suffocates pests and grain borers. They have no chance of surviving.”
To make the ash, she burns parts of a leadwood tree and then sieves the ash and mixes it with the maize. She then stores her maize in a granary.
Silas Nkala is an agricultural expert based in Gwanda, in Matabeleland South province. He says wood ash has proved over time to be an effective method to control pests. He explains that the ashes make it difficult for the pests to breathe and eat. Unable to take in enough moisture from their food, the insects dry out and die from suffocation before they are able to reproduce.
Donald Khumalo is a former president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union. He says this method protects maize longer than chemicals, which may have adverse effects on human health.
Mrs. Mguni is happy to use the cheaper, traditional way of protecting her maize. She no longer worries about post-harvest losses. She says, “I have had no problems with the grain borers after using the wood ash. I [can] rest assured that my maize is protected in the granary.”
A well-built granary or warehouse is also important for protecting stored maize. In Ghana’s Ashanti Region, Memunata Abdulai has built a new warehouse, thanks to advice from a radio program. Layers of wooden panels on the outside of the warehouse protect the maize from rain or sun. Inside, wooden pallets on the floor keep the sacks of maize off the ground and allow proper ventilation.
Mrs. Abdulai hasn’t always stored her maize like this. Previously, she used any room she had available, whether it was dirty or not. She says, “Before you knew it, it was infected with aflatoxin or other things.”
It was only after listening to radio programs on Jerryson FM and Akyeaa FM that she decided to build the warehouse.
Augustus Addai is the main resource person for the radio show on Akyeaa FM. He works for the department of agriculture and is in charge of crop development in Nkoranza South municipality—where the radio station broadcasts.
Mr. Addai says farmers can earn more money if they properly store maize, and receive a better price when demand is higher in the months long after harvest.
Mrs. Abdulai learned that she should use a warehouse, arrange it so that air can circulate, and keep it clean.
Now her maize stays unspoiled and the quality fetches a good price at the market. In the past, if the market price was 100 Ghana cedis ($22 US) for a 110-kg sack of maize, buyers would offer only 80 ($17 US) or even 50 cedis ($11 US) for one of Mrs. Abdulai’s bags. After she built the warehouse, buyers pay Mrs. Abdulai the market price, sometimes offering as much as 150 cedis ($33 US) per bag. She says, “I get exactly what I want, and it is increasing my profit.”
This article is based on two stories from the Barza Wire archives. To read the full stories:
Zimbabwe: Farmers use wood ash to protect stored maize from pests: http://wire.farmradio.fm/en/farmer-stories/2014/12/zimbabwe-farmers-use-wood-ash-to-protect-stored-maize-from-pests-11078
Ghana: Warehouse keeps maize dry and profits high: http://wire.farmradio.fm/en/farmer-stories/2016/09/ghana-warehouse-keeps-maize-dry-and-profits-high-15036
Photo: Memunata Abdulai outside her maize warehouse in Ghana’s Ashanti Region // credit: Tara Sprickerhoff