Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
Universities should carry out research on post-harvest losses to help provide strategies for reducing losses among smallholder farming communities in the country, a senior Government official has said.

In a speech read on his behalf, Secretary for Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Professor Fanuel Tagwira said research was vital in improving the country’s agricultural output.

“Research activities in our universities should be modelled towards meeting sustainable development goals of reducing postharvest losses by at least half by the year 2030 to enhance the food and nutritional security of our people,” he said.

“Post-harvest losses still affect our smallholder farming sector and we need to do more research to find solutions to this problem.”

The comments were made at a Grain Post-harvest Stakeholder Learning Forum which was held recently in Mbire and Guruve districts, north of the country.

The event was organised by the University of Zimbabwe Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering to share their findings of a four-year research on the effectiveness of hermetic grain storage bags in reducing post-harvest losses.

Prof Tagwira said it was important to improve post-harvest handling methods to reduce losses and cut down the country’s import bill.

“I am happy that the research brought together the expertise of academics, extension staff and local communities to address the complex challenges associated with agricultural post-harvest pest management affecting our smallholder farming sector,” he said.

“This kind of collaboration enables the hands-on training of farmers and extension staff, as well as sharing of experiences.”

Reducing post-harvest losses can help increase food availability and improve access to food, nutritional quality, food safety and farmers’ incomes.

Data on post-harvest losses is in short supply and more research still needs to be done to reduce post-harvest losses in the country.

According to research findings by the UZ Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering, Zimbabwe has an average maize post-harvest loss of about 18,5 percent, roughly worth about $259 per tonne while for sorghum, the figure is pegged at 12,5 percent which translates to a loss of $175 per tonne.

The post-harvest losses are mainly due to destruction during storage by insects and pests.

Speaking at the same event, Dr Elijah Nyakudya, Dean of the UZ Faculty of Agriculture, said finding useful strategies to minimise post-harvest losses could help enhance the country’s food and nutritional security.

“As a university, we remain committed to using research to find solutions to problems facing smallholder farmers,” he said. “All this is in line with the Government’s vision to attain the middle income economy status by 2030. Universities are there to work with communities to find solutions to pressing problems.”

Zimbabwe requires 1,8 million tonnes of grain for both human and livestock consumption a year and 800 000 tonnes is expected to be imported to cover the gap.

Up to 18,5 percent of the country’s expected harvest this season will be lost largely due to poor post-harvest handling methods.

These losses translate into millions of dollars worth of grain imports.