Digvir Jayas 2016-02-26 23:58:50
Annually, over 2.6 billion tonnes of grains—cereals, oilseeds, and pulses—are grown and then stored along the chain from producers to consumers. Most countries do not systematically report how much grain becomes unfit for human consumption during storage, but anecdotal reports suggest that it’s worryingly high. In poorly managed storage systems, such as those that leave grain unprotected on the ground or store grain without drying, losses can routinely reach 30%, whereas in well-managed systems losses are less than 1%. Let’s assume a global loss of 20%. By reducing that loss to 1%, 494 million tonnes of grain could be saved, meeting the needs of an estimated 1.35 billion people (based on an average consumption for citizens of China, the EU, and India of 1 kg of grain per person per day). This amount of grain saved is equivalent to not seeding 247 million ha of land (assuming average yields of 2 tonnes per ha). Imagine the impact of reforesting that land, and saving the water, fuel, and fertilizer used to produce the lost grain. Cutting losses to 1% can be achieved using our current knowledge about grain storage, supplemented with further research and development. Shift the goal Global policy makers, politicians, and agricultural scientists have placed a high priority on finding ways to produce more food for the growing world population. Huge resources have gone into developing high-yielding cultivars, for example, and bringing marginal land into production. But similar attention has not been paid to preserving harvests. If losses are not controlled, then 19% more grain must be produced in excess just to sustain the currently available food supply (allowing for 1% acceptable loss). And preserving harvested grain is generally more cost-effective than producing enough to replace losses, even for smallholders, despite the cost increases for smaller storage units. One reason that policymakers and politicians are not focusing on reducing losses might be because grain is not treated as a national asset, and waste is not seen as a national loss. Most of the lost grain belongs to individual farmers, but there are national impacts, too. It is the country, as a whole, that imports grain to feed its citizens and loses the potential to export surplus grain. Therefore, countries should provide proper infrastructure to preserve grain, including appropriately designed systems for handling and storage, aeration, and drying, as well as ongoing grain quality monitoring. Another reason for neglecting food losses might be that an increase in production is easier to celebrate. Reducing losses does not increase production, but rather only increases the availability of the current production—a less glamorous achievement, perhaps. Understanding storage ecosystems Stored bulk grain is effectively an ecosystem in which the grain can deteriorate because of both abiotic (physical) variables, such as temperature, moisture content, and the gases between the grains, and biotic (living) variables, such as insects, mites, fungi, and the grain itself. By understanding and then properly managing these ecosystems, grain can be transformed into a non-perishable, stable commodity and preserved for a long time. For example, most grains can be stored safely for up to three years if their moisture content is reduced to a safe level (12% to 13% of wet weight) using proper drying techniques, and if they are kept cool (below 15°C) using aeration or chilled aeration. Rodents, birds, and other wild animals can attack stored grain. However, properly designed systems—such as steel or concrete bins and warehouses on plinths topped with inverted half cylinders—can easily eliminate access by these opportunistic pests. Because bulk grains are ecosystems, there is a need to train people to understand them. Farmers, for example, must know about the simple things they can do, such as cleaning storage sites of old grain and debris, that reduce cross-contamination of new grain. Team effort Engineers, biologists, chemists, and economists need to work in multidisciplinary teams to solve grain storage problems. For example, engineers are needed to design systems that manipulate abiotic factors so that harmful organisms (such as insects, mites, and molds) are minimized. Chemists and electrical engineers are needed to design sensors for quality monitoring. Young professionals who will deal with food security should understand the typical issues involved in grain storage. And students around the world must be challenged to develop appropriate technologies, such as solar drying systems and storage structures using local materials. The annual loss of grain translates into a great financial loss for farmers and for countries’ GDP. By preserving just one year’s global losses, world agriculture could save US$148.2 billion (based on 494 million tonnes at US$300 per tonne). This preservation would quickly pay back any significant funds invested in grain storage design and training. Policymakers, politicians, and scientists need the collective will to make a change—a commitment to prioritize saving grain as much as increasing its production. How can we celebrate any increase in grain production if it does not make its way to the tables of a hungry world? ASABE Fellow Digvir Jayas, Vice President (Research and International) and Distinguished Professor, Department of Biosystems Engineering, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, email@example.com. This article, part of the “Spotlight on Ensuring Food Security for the Future,” was originally published on www.scidev.net. Title background © Artography | Dreamstime: Lentil beetle and affected lentils.
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