Post-harvest loss, innovation and IP

Anyone who has worked in Sub-Saharan Africa will be aware that post-harvest storage losses account for as much as 35% of output.  Eliminating such losses results in an immediate effective increase in output of up to 40%.  We described one of several simple solutions for cowpea at https://casipblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/post-harvest-food-loss-wasa-the-purdue-method/

At the request of CIMMYT, CAS-IP asked me to review CIMMYT’s grain storage silo projects in Malawi and Kenya, and I met with farmers, institutional users and silo fabricators.  With years of experience in Mexico and Central America, CIMMYT had developed a technology that was appropriate for grain storage in developing countries.  This included silo design and material specification, and a training program to ensure that artisan metalworkers could both construct the silos to specification and train farmers on how to use them.

Small holder farmer Nancy Njeri (right), Kiritiri, Kenya with grain storage silo. Photo by Peter Bloch

CIMMYT’s concern was that untrained fabricators might offer inferior silos to farmers; that such silos could be ineffective, and that the reputation of the initiative would suffer as a result.  If this were to happen, uptake would be negatively affected.


Three 1800kg silos owned by the Kiritiri Producer Marketing Group. Photo by Peter Bloch

Discussions with the various actors in the value chain suggested a simple strategy.  The fabricators learned, as an integral part of their training, that quality and customer service were critical success factors.  So, if the fabricators in each country joined together to set up a Fabricator Trade Association (FTA), they could jointly apply for a trademark that could be used to identify the “approved” silos.

Just as community enforcement of a brand played an important role in the development of the Malawi Seed Alliance, it seemed highly likely that in these small tightly-knit rural farming communities the FTA would quickly find out if any non-members (untrained fabricators) were producing counterfeit silos.  Moreover, farmers, institutions and producer marketing groups I spoke to were very happy with the silos they had acquired and this suggests that community support for the status quo (buy your silo from an FTA member) would be shared at the grassroots as farmers discussed the investment among themselves.

For more information on this very simple yet innovative intervention, there are numerous online references including:

http://www.cimmyt.org/en/about-us/media-resources/newsletter/717-metal-silos-lock-out-maize-pests-in-africa

http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/36844/icode/

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

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