Tanzania: Farmers use plastic bags and drums to protect maize from insect pests

April 07, 2019
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It’s midday, but Rose Alexander continues to sweep the home storeroom where she keeps her maize. Mrs. Alexander says, “I am constantly striving to keep my maize storeroom clean, and I put my maize in [plastic] bags and drums to avoid losing my maize to insect pests.”

Mrs. Alexander lives in Maroroni village in the Arusha Region of northern Tanzania. To avoid losses from insects and other pests during storage, she keep her maize in plastic drums and bags that pests and insects find hard to penetrate.

Many farmers lose their grain harvest during storage due to poor post-harvest practices—for example, not ensuring that maize is sufficiently dry or secure from pests. Mrs. Alexander also used to uproot whole maize plants so they could dry in the field before transporting them to storage, a practice that exposes the grain to attack by insects and other pests.

She harvests about 50 100-kilogram bags of maize a year from her five acres. But, until she started using plastic bags and drums for storage, she lost about 50 kilograms from every bag to insect pests such as weevils and grain borers.

Before 2017, she used ordinary sacks to store maize. But insect pests could easily enter the bags and cause high losses.

She says, “The insects were invading the maize … we were so worried, but the extension worker came to teach us how to reduce post-harvest losses using plastic bags and drums.”

Following the extension worker’s advice, Mrs. Alexander purchased a large, plastic 200-litre tank that holds 100 kilograms of maize.

Honest Mseri is a farmer from Meru who also uses plastic bags and drums to store her maize. She says that, although using the plastic containers helps farmers greatly reduce post-harvest losses, the cost is high.

She says it costs about 2,300 Tanzania shillings ($1 US) to purchase a double-layered plastic bag—one 50- or 100-kg bag inside another. A plastic drum costs 30,000 Tanzania shillings ($15 US).

Maneno Chidege is the senior researcher at the Tropical Pesticides Research Institute in Arusha. He says that farmers are facing a huge challenge when storing their maize, and that failing to store harvested maize safely is one of the reasons farmers have such high post-harvest losses from insect pests.

Mr. Chidege says farmers should ensure their maize is well-dried before storage. Excess moisture can lead to rot. He also recommends that farmers use double plastic bags to manage insect pests in storage.

Mrs. Alexander says the plastic bags and drums have helped her reduce losses from insect pests. Because of this plastic technology, her family now has enough food. She says, “The maize is a great source of food for us. We sell the surplus to find school fees and I also found capital for a small business.”

This story was produced with support from The Rockefeller Foundation through its YieldWise initiative.