While crop yield and durability are important factors when it comes to food supply, we can’t ignore the importance that storage has on the availability of these crops. Improper storage facilities and techniques can lead to drastic decreases in the total amount of food. Not only does proper storage allow for consumption of crops when they are out of season, there is a direct correlation between the shelf life of crops and the way in which they are stored. Therefore, if we are to increase total food available, we must also make improving these facilities a priority.
For the most part, storage techniques can be divided into short and long term. In the short term, crops need to be dried directly after being harvested. The most common practice is aerial drying, which involves tying bundles of crop together and hanging them high above the ground to keep them away from rodents. Rat guards (Figure 1) are common systems used to prevent rats from climbing up and eating the food.
Figure 1. Rat Guards (FAO, 1985)
While these systems are effective, there are still easy and cost-efficient ways to improve them. For example, the use of ground storage along with aerial storage can add more space and increase access to these crops; in these cases, all we would have to do is provide farmers with the knowledge to do so. Ground storage systems can consist of any small room with rodent proof walls and a covering on the floor to keep ground moisture from seeping into crops. Another important practice is to properly clean each item used in the storage process which can also be greatly improved through education. This process involves washing and scrubbing the floors of ground storage systems, and allowing them to dry, thus removing all residual moisture. Doing this not only provides a proper environment for drying, it also removes any dirt and contaminants that may ruin the crops.
In the long term, most common practices are outdated, and are open to pests and contaminants. Crops are usually put in baskets or gourds to keep them dry. For more capacity, there are also wooden cribs, and underground pits that can be covered and uncovered as needed. While these techniques are somewhat capable of storing food, they are susceptible to weather changes and are incapable of guarding from certain pests. To improve this, Mission 2019 suggests creating large scale warehouses that can be used communally by all the small farmers in a given area. These warehouses would be square to maximize their surface area, and would be fairly large depending on the yield of each group using the warehouse. The warehouses will consist of concrete floors with some layer of waterproof insulator (a layer of bitumen, asphalt, bitumen felt, or polyethylene film) sandwiched in between. The walls should be made of sandcrete, and painted white to increase the visibility of insects on the walls. The roof will need to be made of a durable material and can differ depending on how much each group can afford. Preferably, these would have steel frames if they got too large, but well treated wood roofs are a decent substitute if need be. Moreover, proper ventilation and lighting are key to adequately keeping crops stored. Figure 2 below is an example of a storage room complete with ventilation and proper insulation.
Because each warehouse will be different and depend solely on the needs of the collective farmers, it is difficult to estimate a cost for such a construct. However, it is entirely possible for most small farm owners to work together and gather these resources either from what they have around them, or trade/ purchase them as needed. Ideally, each warehouse will cost anywhere from 10-25 USD per square foot.
All of this will be run entirely by local farmers. As seen in Farmers Cooperatives, we will have groups of farmers forming a union. Not only will they be able to help each other stay afloat in a constantly changing market, they will also be able to afford expenses such as like warehouses. After the initial training to establish these warehouses, we expect the unions to manage them independent of outside influence.
With these improvements we hope to halve the total amount of food product lost because of faulty storage. Currently it is projected that almost 46% of all grain harvest is wasted because of faulty storage, however, good quality storage can drastically decrease that number and allow for year-round consumption of many of these crops (C. Arum and F.R. Falayi, 2012).
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FAO. 1985. Prevention of Post-Harvest Food Losses: A Training Manual. Rome: UNFAO. 120 pp.
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Grain storage techniques–Evolution and trends in developing countries, edt. D.L. Proctor, FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin, No. 109, 1994, Rome, Italy
Kader, A.A, 1993. Postharvest Handling. In: Preece, J.E. and Read, P.E., The Biology of Horticulture- An Introductory Textbook. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 353-377.
Kleinkopf G.E. and Olsen N., Storage Management, 2005, University of Idaho, USA.
Koo Lee, Seung, 1994. Assoc. Prof., Postharvest Technology Lab., Department of Horticulture, Seoul National University, Suwon 441-744, Korea.