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For Malawi’s Farmers Facing Harvest Pests, The Solution’s In The Bag

But many farmers, such as Clement Kasitomu of Dowa district, now face a new worry: Losing as much as 40 percent of their harvest to insects once the crops are in storage.

Kasitomu usually stores his grain, vegetables and other harvested food in traditional woven granaries - designed to keep cattle and goats out - or in hessian sacks, or tucked among leaves. But his harvest is frequently attacked by weevils, termites and fungi, he said.

That costs him cash, food and seeds he could plant the next season. "We have suffered losses, especially from hybrid (crops) that are not that strong to withstand pests," the farmer said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Pesticides aren't a solutMWmkoka leaf storage bagion either, he said, because they are both expensive and cause ecological problems on the farm. But a bit of cheap technology could help, in the form of manufactured storage bags, which more farmers in Malawi are beginning to use.

The Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bag is being promoted in seven districts in Malawi as an alternative to using chemical pesticides on stored grain or simply losing it to pests, said Shelix Munthali, an official with the Feed the Future agricultural diversification programme, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The bag has two linings of high-density polyethylene, and an outer layer of woven polypropylene. Together, the layers keep out most oxygen, which prevents insects from surviving and reproducing.

Up to 98 percent of all insects can be eliminated from stored grain within a month of depositing it in the bag, cutting losses, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Plos One.

Malawi's Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has endorsed the bags as a proven technology for cutting losses after harvest.

"Before I started using PICS bags, I would lose four out of 10 bags (of grain) to weevils and the fungus aflatoxin," said Trecia Kangala, a farmer from Mchinji district.

But "when after seven months I unsealed my first PICS bag, the maize quality was as good as it was the time I sealed the bag. Since chemicals are not used when using PICS bags, I also saved (money)," she added.

Aido Chapuma Chakakala, a farmer from Lilongwe, said the bags also protected grain he needed to replant as seed.

"This year I decided to plant maize from the PICS bag, (to see) if it could germinate. To my utter surprise, the germination rate was perfect," he said. "I can boast of a good harvest this year."

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About the Author
Charles Mkoka
Charles Mkoka is Secretary General of Association of Environmental Journalists in Malawi. He is also Lead Partner for Ecosystems Partners and Communication, a privately owned firm he set in 2015



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