Rice farmers in Yala swamp in Siaya have cut their losses of rice to post-harvest damage by as much as 40 per cent, by using candles to create an airless vacumn for storing the rice seeds for their next crops, and using candle smoke as an ongoing deterrent to pest invasion of stored crops.
The success of seed storage depends on managing moisture content through drying, seeing many trials of more cost effective methods for drying. With the rice, the farmers select the best panicles from the field, and harvest these separately.
They are later dried in an open field for a day. To test the water content, farmers crack the grain between their mouth and once convinced the grain is dry they prepare the storage container by washing and drying it to remove insects and their eggs. Earthenware pots. which are commonly used to preserve the rice seeds, are first painted to make them airtight and seal pores that may be conduits for insects or water.
“We have tried storage with gunny sacks and polythene bags but have realised they are not effective in stopping the air passing through and are constantly attacked by pests which find their way into the rice seeds. And since, at times, the paint may not be accessible to majority of us we use cooking oil and apply it inside and outside the pots,” said Oduol, one of the rice farmers in the area says.
The rice seeds are then poured into the pot to the brim. In case of a space in the pot, farmers add puffed rice or dry sand to fill, which reduces the survival chances of insects.
However, it’s the use of candles, another of the preservation methods, that has gained grounds among almost all the farmers in the area. They light a candle inside the container before closing the lid. The candle burns until there is no oxygen left so that all the insects that may be inside die by suffocation. Once the rice seeds are filled and the lid closed, lighting a candle once per day and letting it burn for 5 minutes ensures that any hole the farmers may have failed to block with the cooking oil doesn’t become the entry point for the pests.
“The smoke produced by the wax is known to repel pests and the candle is affordable and is not as dangerous as the fumigation that the farmers have been using. Since I started working with these farmers and introducing the use of candle to preserve the rice seeds we have cut down pest attacks by 40per cent, which I consider as a huge investment,” said Dr. Manlom Ndwethe, a scientist.
While incessant pest attacks pushed the farmers to dispose of their rice at often throwaway prices immediately after harvest rather than risk storing it, the modest yet revolutionary candle method has slowly encouraged bulk stocking of rice, with farmers only releasing the rice when there is a shortage in the market, giving them an opportunity to earn more. It has also created a thriving pot business in the area as more potters now move to supply the highly demanded pots.
“We make them according to specifications but the frequently requested ones are those that can accommodate 20 to 40kgs. An average one goes for Sh500 and on a good day traders pocket up to Sh4000 from rice farmers. “The pots have suddenly become very popular here especially with rice harvesting like right now,” said Zachary Odhiambo a trader in Siaya.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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