The Food Reserve Authority (FRA) explains its side of the story :
Grain storage in Zambia; the case of FRA, Mwamba Siame (FRA public relations officer), The Post (subscription), Commentary :The Food Reserve Agency (FRA) was created as an Act of Parliament in 1996. Since its inception, the Agency has grappled with carrying out its mandates of establishment and maintenance of a strategic food reserve, management of storage facilities and crop marketing.The FRA enters the market in June and exits in September every year, targeting small- scale farmers in far flung areas which private businessmen and women fail to reach due to the high transport costs involved.If the agency is to uphold its function of storage of quality grain in the national strategic reserves, a little more attention needs to be paid to the management of grain starting with the farmer with the help of key stakeholders. This is very important in food security.Grain storage by the FRA aims to stabilise prices and distribute revenue to farmers as well as ensure national food security. In the past, FRA has held huge stocks of more than 600,000 metric tonnes (mt) of maize and keeping huge quantities of grain leads to a number of challenges.The challenges that the FRA has include, having more open storage facilities such as slabs instead of sheds or silos, and lack of commitment by some cooperatives that are usually sub contracted to manage the storage depots. In addition, the varying qualities of maize coming from the small-scale farmers with different crop management practices, also pose a challenge.Due to these challenges, some storage losses have been experienced. Such losses are expected in grain management and the average grain storage losses differ from country to country. According to expert opinion for maize, the loss experienced in some cases could be as high as between 10 per cent and 19 per cent but the acceptable grain storage loss is about 2 per cent.Such losses normally attract the attention of the public who usually conclude that the crop has been neglected. However, the FRA has always emphasized that initial quality of store grain which include high moisture content and insect infestation are some of the main causes of crop losses in storage. The deteriorated maize may be re- classified as discoloured, insect damaged and rotten maize not fit for human consumption.In order to avoid high percentages in storage losses, the Agency usually begins its purchase programme only when the moisture content in maize is at 12.5 per cent. Generally, grain could be stored at higher moisture content of 15 per cent in areas with lower temperatures such as Europe and America whilst it is a must that grain be stored at lower moisture contents in tropical countries with higher temperatures like Zambia. The reason is that insects and moulds grow and destroy stored grain depending on the amount of moisture available in the maize grain, spaces surrounding the grain as well as the temperature.The grain becomes discoloured by turning yellowish from white due to heating and fermentation of the grain. Secondly, the grain starts to rot because small living things such as bacteria and fungi grow on the maize, breaking it down in order to extract the nutrients that are necessary for their growth. In the process they also produce toxic substances which are poisonous making the grain not fit for human consumption. Or the grain may start to germinate and eventually rot whilst in storage. Lastly, the high moisture content and the presence of living organisms increase the activity of storage insect pests and rats which in turn cause damage to the grain.It is due to the above stated reason that FRA normally opens the crop marketing season in June to allow the harvested maize to dry and will only be purchased and stored at a minimum moisture content of 12.5 per cent. The time the maize is dry enough after harvest also differs from low and high rainfall areas in Zambia. In the Northern, Luapula, Cooperbelt and North Western provinces, the maize dries later than in the medium and lower areas such as Lusaka, Central, Western, Southern and Eastern provinces.Consequently, farmers should make sure that the grain is fully mature and is completely dry before they bring it to the FRA depots for sale. To ensure that only maize grain of the right moisture content of 12.5 per cent is purchased, FRA measures the moisture content of the grain, using a moisture meter before the grain is purchased.Another challenge that the FRA faces is that some maize delivered by farmers is already infested with grain weevils in the field and no residual spraying is done until the maize is delivered to FRA satellite depots. Damage to the grain in storage by the insect pests is usually minimised through fumigation. However, fumigation should be done by specialists who have the appropriate equipment and are qualified to carry out the operation. This is because fumigation if not done properly may result in fire, build up in pest resistance and even death if the chemicals are not handled properly. For this reason FRA engages private fumigation firms who are registered with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and certified by the Environmental Council of Zambia.Lastly, the low quality maize delivered by some small- scale farmers due to poor crop management practices in the field or bad shelling procedures also presents a challenge in grain storage . This includes Broken maize which is able to pass through a 6.35 mm round hole sieve, chipped grain which is broken but cannot pass through a 6.35 mm round hole sieve, shriveled grain which is underdeveloped, thin wrinkled and papery in appearance and diseased maize which is rotten due to the action of fungi, bacterial or any other organism of decay. Most of these farmers use traditional methods to shell maize such as use of sticks to beat the maize which increases the percentage of broken grain, foreign matter and chaff.According to the Zambia Bureau of Standards, the maximum amount of defective maize, broken, shriveled, diseased, discolored and foreign matter, should not exceed 14 per cent for maize to qualify as grade A. Maize with high percentage of chaff is likely to deteriorate quickly because fumigation is not effective due to poor circulation of air. FRA encourages the farmers to winnow, Kupepeta as one would say in Nyanja, their maize before delivering it to the depots. In addition, at the satellite depot, the maize is passed through a 6.35mm sieve which removes the chaff.FRA is making every effort to ensure that the crop is stored in good quality and the quality maintained until the crop is needed. This can be seen from the ability of the Agency to export maize to other countries in the region as it is able to meet internationally acceptable standards. However, this is only possible if the major stakeholders, the small-scale farmers, begin to appreciate the importance of delivering dry and clean maize.