Nelly Bassily | October 28, 2013
Women and children with logs of wood on their heads emerge from the forest in Misaje, a village in the Northwest region of Cameroon. They have been collecting firewood for cooking. Margareta Nkenda is one of these women. She also uses the wood to preserve stored maize and other crops.
She places her maize in the thatched ceiling of her kitchen, then lights a fire on the kitchen floor to dry the cobs. Mrs. Nkenda says, “Growing up, my grandmother taught me how to farm and also how to preserve our food traditionally, and that’s how we do it.”
The process requires a lot of firewood. Mrs. Nkenda says, “If we don’t burn as much wood as we do, the maize will get bad. When the maize is well-dried, we store it well away from rats and pests.”
Some of her maize will last for a year, and she is satisfied with this result. But she loses around one-third of her crop to disease and pests. And sometimes, she has to sell what remains cheaply to prevent further losses.
Boukari Ayessaki is a senior advisor at the Dutch international NGO, SNV. He says that up to 40 per cent of the maize produced in Cameroon is lost after harvest or during processing.
Mr. Ayessaki says most post-harvest processes used by farmers are affordable and accessible, but inefficient. Because the practices do not completely protect stored crops against insects and rodents, farmers lose a large percentage of their harvest. Mr. Ayessaki recommends that small-scale farmers use traditional storage cribs such as those made from bamboo, as modern cribs are too expensive.
Peter Tanyi works for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Northwest region. He says most small-scale farmers cannot use large silos unless they merge their harvests together. But if they share the same silo, it is difficult to determine which maize belongs to which farmer.
Bah Salifu Ndichengoh is a large-scale maize farmer in Ndop, a town in the Northwest region. He harvests an estimated three to five tonnes of maize per hectare. But some years, he loses up to two tonnes per hectare during and after harvest.
Mr. Ndichengoh says: “In our community, technology and infrastructure to help us preserve and store our harvests is limited. Most people resort to traditional methods [of] preserving by drying in their [kitchens] or using cypress leaves to keep weevils away from the maize.”
He says that training is available on methods to preserve food and prevent losses. With the help of SNV and extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Ndichengoh learned how to construct a modern crib, then used his own funds to build it.
Mrs. Nkenda knows about modern maize cribs and silos. But she and the farmers in her area use traditional bamboo cribs because they cannot afford to build modern storage structures.
She says that she will continue to make do with traditional methods until she has access to better technologies.
Mrs. Nkenda says, “Thanks to the methods of preservation which we learned from our grandparents and parents, we have some hope that what we cultivate will not be lost.”