In crop production, some people tend to focus only on losses incurred in-field. What they do not realize is that post-harvest losses can be the most significant. Post-harvest losses refer to degradation in quality and quantity from harvest to consumption.  Over 70 percent of post-harvest losses are for or from fruits, vegetables, cereals, and grains. Post-harvest losses come from several possible reasons but chief amongst them is storage complications. In Zimbabwe, the issue of storage for most crop producers is a dire dilemma. In this article, we shall discuss the storage dilemma crop farmers are facing in Zimbabwe.

Dependence On Natural Weather Conditions

Dependence on natural weather conditions is common in Zimbabwe. This is sadly resulting in complicated scenarios for crop farmers. Imagine a scenario where rains come late and heavily. This leads to prolonged periods of high moisture content in the soil and also in the crops. This means you have to wait much longer for the crops to be ready for harvest i.e. when they are sufficiently dry e.g. grain. Yet on the other hand you want to start making way for the winter cropping season.

However, you cannot harvest because the natural weather conditions are not conducive yet. All this could have been avoided if the crop farmers had proper storage facilities. Most of them do not and would rather prefer a field straight to market scenario. Let us suppose the crop is sufficiently ready for harvest and incessant rains start. Excessive heat or dry spells can also eat away at the projected crop yields. All these conditions can lead to crop losses- up to 40 percent of projected yields. This is the experience of most crop farmers in Zimbabwe.

Thus it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, waiting on natural weather conditions affects the winter cropping schedule. On the other hand, that wait can be met by unfavourable adverse weather that compromises yields. All this happens due to a lack of proper storage infrastructure and mechanisms.

Cost Of Artificial Drying Mechanisms

One way to address some of these issues is to employ artificial drying. This mainly applies to cereal or grain crops. To avoid any unwanted scenarios you could harvest a bit earlier. Then you would bring the crops to proper moisture contents using artificial methods. This would also allow enough time to clear the fields and prepare for the winter cropping season. The unfortunate thing is that most crop farmers do not have what it takes to do artificial drying. Even worse is that the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has limited artificial drying capacity as well. The GMB is planning to add more artificial dryers but their capacity will still be limited given the huge demand for such services.

More Focus Needed On Storage Solutions – Possible Approaches

It is a no brainer that artificial drying will help and work for hand in hand with good storage infrastructure. Crop producers can figure out ways to partner to purchase artificial drying infrastructure jointly. They can also consider that strategy for storage facilities as well. Business-minded people must also come in here. They can source artificial drying equipment to either sell or rent out. They can also construct storage facilities that crop farmers can pay to use. However, certain core variables will have to be considered for crop farmers to buy-in. The cost of storage and transportation must be affordable enough for it all to make sense.

We have a widespread problem that crop farmers are facing in Zimbabwe. Not only does it affect them but it resultantly affects every Zimbabwean citizen. Low yields lead to a poor supply of basic commodities and thus higher prices. Look at bread right now; if we were producing enough wheat in the country we would not be having such situations. The government does have a role to play and they do help here and there. However, I feel that the private sector has to play an even bigger role. Especially on artificial drying and proper storage facilities, there is a need for move activity. If more investments are channelled there the situation can improve.