In much of the developing world, agricultural production is the main source of income for households in rural areas. These areas are also home to high poverty rates and low access to basic services. Many rural farmers do not have access to the use of cold storage facilities or warehouses to store their produce throughout the seasons. Consequently, a large portion of their produce is spoiled or they are forced to sell it below the cost of production. This substantially undercuts their income generating potential. In light of these constraints, and the potential impact improved farming methods could have on poverty, post-harvest storage solutions should serve as a key component of food security oriented social protection initiatives in rural areas. Local community driven initiatives can play a crucial role in this regard.
Agriculture in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, more than 70% of its population and 77% of its workforce lives in rural areas (World Bank, 2016). Nearly half of all of Bangladesh’s workers are employed in agriculture, and about 87% of rural households rely on agriculture for at least part of their income (Ibid). However, a lack of sufficient market linkages and poor storage facilities heavily undermine farmer’s income generating potential. Poverty, poor access to basic services and political corruption further compromise the achievement of sustainable agriculture.
A lack of sufficient storage facilities, such as warehouses and cold storage, as well as poor awareness of technology to preserve harvests, present major challenges for rural farmers in Bangladesh. Many existing storage facilities are unusable or poorly maintained, while others are owned by middlemen, making them inaccessible to poor farmers. In addition, political corruption further undermines access to storage facilities.
Spoiled produce is destroyed or farmers sell it to middleman at a very low price. As there is substantial demand for agricultural produce, middlemen capitalise on farmers’ lack of access to storage and poor market linkages. The middlemen are able to store produce in their warehouses and cold storage facilities. Some of the produce is processed and the rest is sold in cities and towns at higher prices. Rural farmers are therefore producing at a loss.
Community driven solutions
There exists an active demand among rural farmers for access to post-harvest storage facilities. Political parties, social organisations and civil societies do support these movements. However, there are no existing solutions in place. Corruption and resource constraints further undermine state provision of storage services.
Therefore, local lead community initiatives have the potential to cater to the demand for storage, through a united effort. By pooling and saving resources at the local community level, potentially in collaboration with organisations and civil society, access to post-harvest storage facilities can be achieved.
An essential component would be the input of individuals with the requisite technological know-how on food storage, processing and market linkages. Training farmers on techniques and alternative technologies would empower farmers, reduce post-harvest losses and increase their income generating potential.
The role of government, organisations and microfinance
Government support, whether it be financial, administrative, or in the provision of land to house storage and processing facilities, would go a long way in establishing such a community based initiative. A tailored policy frame work catering to the needs of poor farmers, would be required. Such a framework could fall under the mandate of social protection. Microfinance institutions offering flexible loans with low interest rates, catering to poor rural farmers, would be a crucial and complimentary component of such an initiative.
The World Food Programme’s (WFP) Reducing Food Losses in Sub-Saharan Africa Project, supported small-scale farmers in Uganda in reducing post-harvest losses, and in doing so, contributed to improving their levels of income. Their project also focused on developing skills to increase productivity levels and market access. The project aided farmers in improving management practices in addition to providing farmers with modern storage equipment to reduce post-harvest losses.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is assisting farmers in Mozambique to improve post-harvest handling and raise incomes with a five-year project that started in 2013. Traditional silos are inadequate at protecting produce and grains from pests and the harsh climate. It therefore aims to build more than 10,000 silos and train at least 20,000 farmers in post-harvest handling management in the sub-programme area.
Improving post-harvest storage would support the achievement of sustainable livelihoods for rural farmers, improve access to produce among consumers, reduce food wastage, and ensure food security nationally. Excess produce can be exported to foreign countries using government channels, incentivising an increase in agricultural production at large. Local community-driven development initiatives have the potential to transform the local economy, reduce poverty and generate widespread development.