Saturday, July 25, 2015

Affordable solution for safe food storage

By Bob Aston
Storing maize without sufficient drying and storage capacity is challenging due to the potential risk of aflatoxin contamination. Many smallholder farmers usually experience high post-harvest losses due to lack of storage facilities.
This challenge is now being addressed by Bell Industries Ltd. The organization has introduced an affordable solution for safe food storage in Sipili area of Ol-Moran Ward, Laikipia West Sub County.
The organization on July 21, 2015 entered into a distributorship deal with Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society to supply Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS). PICS bags is a viable management tool for preventing aflatoxin accumulation in storage.
Peter Chomba from Bell Industries Ltd holding PICS bag
What is PICS bag
PICS is a triple-lined 100 kilogram hermetic bag that farmers can adjust for lower volumes while still allowing the bag to be hermetically sealed.
The bag consists of two layers of bags that are surrounded by a third layer of woven bag thereby creating a hermetically sealed environment in which harvested cereals are stored.
 Triple bagging creates an airtight environment and seals any pest present in the cereal inside the bag.  The third layer of woven bag provides the mechanical strength.
“The bags not only ensures food security and minimizing post-harvest losses but also helps farmers to make profit from their produce by minimizing the costs involved in preserving cereals, “said Leah Muriuki, General Manger, Bell Industries Ltd.
Advantages of the bag
PICS bags provide many benefits to smallholder farmers. Not only is this an effective insecticide-free, low cost method of storing cereals but it can also be stored in family homes making it an effective way of storage for most smallholder farmers.
The quality of grains stored in PICS bag does not decline and grains can be stored for more than a year. This can ensure that farmers store their grains until they are able to get better returns thus realizing higher profit.
Muriuki noted that the bags helps farmers to reduce the high cost of chemicals used for preserving their cereals as they do not require use of chemicals.
Other advantages of the bags include: they prevent infestation because rats search for food using sense of smell, since the bags are airtight no smell can be detected; they can be reused for three years provided they are free of holes and tears; the bags can also be opened any time. When they are unsealed the cereals are ready to be consumed.
Peter Chomba from Bell Industries Ltd demonstrating how the bags are used
How to use the bags
Grains stored in PICS bags should be dried with a moisture content of 12.0. This is to prevent mould growth, grain rot and aflatoxin. Farmers should ensure that the bags have three layers.  
The two inner liners should be checked for holes or tears. Defective liners should not be used.
Pour a small amount of grain into the first liner, then put it inside the second liner. Insert the two liners into the woven bag. Fold over the tops of all three bags together. Fill the bag with grain while shaking gently to avoid air pockets. The quantity of cereal does not matter although it is advisable not to fill the bag so that enough space is available for sealing it.
Pack the grain lightly to remove air then twist the lip gently. Fold it over and tie using a string or cord. Tie each of the three bags separately starting with the first liner, then the second and finally the third.
Muriuki said that the bags should not be stored in direct sunlight or extreme heat. Elevated platforms should also be used to keep the bags of the ground. The bags should also not be stored in areas where there are infested grains.
“Farmers should ensure that the bags are kept in an environment that is free of external threats like mice and rats. This is because PICS bag do not protect grains against such threat,” said Muriuki.
The use of PICS is not only going to ensure that smallholder farmers have an affordable solution for safe food storage but could also make a significant contribution in ensuring food security in Laikipia County. The storage bags are available at Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society Store at Kshs. 250.
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