“This is the first year I’m not buying chemicals to store my grain,” Baraka Nurie, the mother of three small children, revealed to Jordan Dey, GrainPro® VP for Food Security, during a visit on February in Ethiopia’s Gurage Region.
What gives? A new rural distribution strategy initiated in January 2017 by GrainPro’s Ethiopia distributor, HiTec, will give millions of small farmers access to pesticide-free and safe hermetic storage. Hermetic bags, such as GrainPro’s SuperGrainbag®, help stop infestation and inhibit the growth of aflatoxin-producing molds, while retaining the quality, color, and taste of stored grains for months, even years without using chemicals that can harm consumers.
Farmers in Ethiopia traditionally grow corn, sorghum and teff for their household consumption, keeping four or five bags (100KG) of the grain in their house. Bugs, particularly weevils, immediately show up, infesting the grain, eating the nutritious core and reducing the contents to a powdery mess.
To combat this problem, farmers, desperate due to the lack of appropriate, affordable and alternative preservation methods during storage, are directly applying chemicals categorized under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants on their grains every couple of months. Some of these chemicals have doubtful origins and are banned internationally from use without proper training because their use can have negative health and environmental effects.
These chemicals kill the weevils, but leave residues that threaten the health of consumers, particularly children, and farm animals. At a financial standpoint, chemical pesticides reduce the market value of their crops. Additionally, the improper use of these chemicals can lead to environmental problems and health concerns for users and their families. Given the downsides of using chemicals, hermetic storage is clearly the safer and more cost-efficient alternative.
HiTec’s strategy involves partnering with governments and local groups to conduct outreach activities that will see highly-trained agricultural extension officers visiting rural communities to train and educate farmers on hermetic storage, and establish a network of local dealers to supply the farmers. One of the dealers, Shafi Agro in Butajira, already sold 439 GrainPro bags since the program started.
The financial incentives of storing are undeniable. In southern Ethiopia, with the harvest just in, the price for a 100 KG bag of corn is currently $19 USD. In five months, as supplies diminish, the market price will increase to $31 per bag, or a 60% gain. The small farmers can recoup the cost of their investment in hermetic bag by waiting 3 to 4 months before they sell their grain.
Despite the obvious benefits, creating the foundation for behavior change among small farmers is a long-term process and requires a long-term commitment. Sharing this effort among governments, donors, non-profits, international organizations and the technology providers is the key to catalyzing behavior change and improving the health, nutritional and financial outcomes for small farmers globally.
And the right time to do this is now.
With increasing pressures to stop the use of dangerous pesticides on dry agricultural commodities, there is a clear desire among farmers for safer alternatives. Baraka Nurie and others in her neighborhood got it right when they decided to stop using chemicals and try out hermetic storage. Aside from the financial potential, they can be sure that their children are eating safe.