Though faced with initial challenges the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) is developing more effective food storage technology, to avert the huge loss of food grains, experienced by farmers in the east every year. However, it is not yet clear if these concrete storage silos are still better than traditional storage methods.
The main MoAF agencies working on this are the Agriculture Machinery Centre (AMC) and the National Post Harvest Centre (NPHC).
Contrary to the assumption that the nutritional potential of harvested produce is fully utilized by humans or domestic animals, it is reported that a considerable quantity of food is wasted or eaten by pests.
A report by AMC and NPHC stated that such facilities targeted to save farm produce from storage pests, is proving to be really helpful to the farmers in some remote pockets of the country. Such a facility has enabled them to save a major chunk of their produce from pests.
However, the report states that storage facility has failed a few times to protect grains from perishing due to the change in climatic condition. “This has made the organization set up better technology to defend food from decaying,” the report stated.
A ministry official said that failure to protect food grains was due to weak monitoring. “The authorities could not make regular visits when maize grain was stored in the silo and instead instruction manuals were given to lgewog administration representatives,” said the official.
The first tryst began in 2006 when AMC installed a grain silo to store farmers’ produce in Zangpozor village. In addition to the grain silo, a complete set of diesel engine , rice huller number eight, attachaki number 16, weighing balance, hand operated winnower and a warehouse were also installed.
To kick-start the facility, the beneficiaries provided 20 khawos each of clean grain which was stored without applying any chemicals. The moisture content and grain infestation was also thoroughly checked with the equipment provided by the AMC, and a timely monitoring was done on the same.
The results as per the report were not any better compared to the traditional storage method. This was because the grain infestation was higher in the silo and that caused rotting of the grain due to intensive heat.
In addition, non-viability of grain in the grain silo, farmers’ inability to handle and store food grain efficiently in a large silo, and technical failure during the storing process were found to be main causes for such glitches.
Officials said, “However, this experience had taught the farmers that grain would rot, if it was just stored, withouth care thus they opted for traditional storing methods”.
This also encouraged the authorities to go for alternative intervention. “After the debacle with the grain silo, the NHPC then intervened with a concrete structure as a trial basis to store grain from 2009,” the report stated.
The center supported the construction of 10 structures by providing materials such as CGI sheets, swan timber, nail, play board, wire mesh, plastic, electric timer, MCB, fan, electric wire, plastic palates and cement.
Beneficiaries arranged for local materials like sand, stone, wood and labor during the first two years (2009 and 2010) and arranged for timber as additional local materials from 2011.
Once farmers harvest their produce, clean and undamaged maize cobs are put up in the store. The store has provisions like inlet and exhaust fans for air circulation, and the fans are controlled by the electric timer after a time interval of 15 minutes.
This year, the NHPC has also provided electric heaters to bring the desired moisture content and increase storage period. As of now, the NHPC has supported the gewog with 40 concrete stores and 3 electric dryers that are currently functioning and helping farmers to store their produce.
It has been difficult to make an assessment of which of the two storing methods – concrete structure and grain silo – is better than the other.