Post-harvest Processing of Grains -Reflections on the Nigeria Development Lab

Global Fellows

Last month we held the first Nigerian Development Lab to discuss and co-curate possible solutions to some of Nigeria’s postharvest loss challenges. If you followed my previous blog, you may be familiar with how overwhelming and exciting this process has been. If not, then stay with me a little, while I shed some light.

The grain value chain in Nigeria has tremendous opportunities and growth potential. An estimated 25 million metric tonnes (MT) of grains are produced annually and the grain market is expected to grow by 2.5% – 3% per annum[1]. The annual production of maize is estimated at 10.7 million MT, 7.6 million MT of rice, and 6.8 million MT of sorghum[2]. This places Nigeria as the largest producer of maize in Africa, the second-largest producer of rice and beans in Africa, and the second-largest producer of sorghum in the world [3]. However, despite these opportunities, the FAO estimates that as much as 3 million metric tonnes across all grains are lost after harvest. Further reports indicate that more than 30% of staple food grains (maize, sorghum, millet) are lost specifically due to poor storage[4]. Between the 2018/19 market year, production levels for maize fell by almost 3%  as a result of pest infestations during the production and storage phases[5]. Another 13% decline is estimated in the 2020/21 market year due to poor storage capacity and COVID-19 restrictions disrupting market access. For fruits and vegetables, post-harvest losses reach up to 45% of the 23 million tonnes produced annually, but that is a story for another day.

As a part of my Development Finance Practice fellowship at the Milken Innovation Center, I set out to explore possible solutions to some of Nigeria’s grain storage problems, a process which began with my proposal to introduce a rehabilitate-build-operate-transfer model for storage silos using an innovative financing approach. A few months down the line, this proposal came short of addressing some of the fundamental storage issues facing farmers across the country, particularly the lack of access to affordable storage. This led me to explore alternative solutions employed in other emerging markets with similar context to Nigeria -particularly the use of Hermetic Storage Technology (HST).

The Nigeria Development lab was aimed at stimulating conversations around hermetic technology, sustainable business models, appropriate financing structure, potential risks, and policy and regulatory environments. The need for multi-stakeholder consultations in this process was evident in the cross-section of participants drawn from different fields including the private sector, government representatives, industry experts, innovation hubs, and academia.

Some key takeaways:

Exploring Hermetic Storage Technology as an alternative storage solution: To understand the need for an alternative storage solution like Hermetics, there is the need to explore why other forms of storage such as the use of metal silos have proven ineffective. In Nigeria, and other tropical and sub-tropical regions, ambient temperatures have proven too high for effective insect control by aeration -a process of “forced” ventilation often used to modify grain microclimate to protect and preserve grain quality in silos. Even contact insecticides degrade due to high temperatures, making metal silos not feasible for effective storage unless refrigerated aeration is employed. These challenges, alongside the environmental concerns of the use and handling of pesticides, called for exploring other user-friendly technologies to cater to the grain storage problems, with little or no risks to users along the value chain. HST under tropical climates proves advantageous on 3 fronts:

  1. Most smallholder farmers are unable to access insecticides. Even when they do, they do not have the necessary training to use them. This poses significant health risks to not only the farmers at the production and handling stage but also to end consumers. HST eliminates this risk by adopting a safe and organic approach to pest control.
  2. Alternative storage solutions are often expensive for smallholder farmers. Although hermetic bags are generally more expensive than traditional storage bags, they are cheaper than the use of insecticides and silos in the long term. A cost-benefit analysis revealed that the average cost of a hermetic bag is $1.73 for a 100kg capacity. On average, a household spends $3.84 to treat a 100kg bag of maize, which is the price of two hermetic bags. Additionally, the sale of grains at harvest incurs additional transport costs (since freight costs are highest at harvest). But with hermetic storage, grains can be stored for more than 6 months, and sold during favorable seasons with much lower transport costs[6].
  • Several case studies have revealed that grains stored in Hermetic bags remained in good condition, with moisture content unchanged after 180, compared to grains stored in open-weave polypropylene bags. Empirical evidence shows only a 1.2% weight loss for dry grains (12% moisture content) stored in hermetic bags, while weight loss reached 35.8% in polypropylene[7].

Multi-stakeholder Consultations: The grain value chain consists of a variety of players, including, smallholder farmers and an increasing number of middle-scale/commercial farmers at the production stage, to middlemen, Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), and industrial processors between the postharvest handling, processing, and trading stage. Between the secondary processing, retail, and end consumers, flour and feed mills, distributors, and retailers. The interconnectedness of the value chain implies that curating an effective solution will rely heavily on leveraging strong partnerships with the different players. The consultative process will also need to target already existing structures such as Geo-cooperatives, Farmer Cooperatives, Universities, Youth Retailers, Commodity Associations, etc. A case in point was in Rwanda, where partnerships were leveraged to conduct training for smallholder farmers on the appropriate usage of hermetic bags and cocoons. These pieces of training resulted in increased adoption amongst farmers[8]. In Zimbabwe, community groups were leveraged to establish demonstration centres to disseminate information to farmers as part of the efforts by the government and NGOs to scale the adoption of hermetic technology. Several stakeholders including the private sector, NGOs (such as UN, Catholic Relief Services, Practical Action), and the University of Zimbabwe also embarked on projects to increase the use of hermetic technology amongst smallholder farmers. These partnerships led to the local manufacturing of hermetic plastic liners, and an overall increase in the use of hermetic storage by smallholder farmers in several districts[9].

Obstacles/risks to scale: While huge opportunities exist for adopting HST in Nigeria, significant risks/obstacles remain. The tight budget of smallholder farmers and limited access to credit implies that despite a willingness to pay, farmers may be unable to afford the use of hermetic bags and cocoons. So, the questions remain, how do we enable access to formal financial systems for smallholder farmers? How do we link farmers with financial institutions to access affordable loans, with their grains potentially serving as collateral?

Still on the risks, as the demand for HST continues to grow across many developing countries, so is the number of suppliers and distributors. With an absence of universal standards for measuring the efficacy of HST, farmers could be exposed to substandard products. There is therefore the need to develop a common global quality standard for producing, testing, and rating hermetic products to protect farmers from buying low-quality bags.

Additionally, some policy constraints are inhibiting the use of HST. For example, duties charged on the importation of HST increase product cost in Nigeria, which is then transferred to farmers. Exploring tax exemptions could be a worthwhile approach, as is the case in Ethiopia where several private actors are pushing for VAT exemptions to increase affordability[10].

While the Development Lab offered significant insights into the design of this product, it remains a long journey with several unanswered questions. Some of them include:

  1. How to build a sustainable distribution network for HST across rural communities?
  2. How do we mitigate against potential financial risks e.g., insecurity, exchange rate volatility, etc.?
  • How do we balance control/ownership over the storage process among farmers and between farmers and processors?
  1. What additional government policy and regulatory actions are needed to scale the implementation of storage facilities for post-harvest storage?

If you are working within the fields of HSTs in Nigeria or any other developing economies,   we would be happy to speak with you and collaborate on our journey to fixing post-harvest losses on grains.

[1] Federal Ministry of Agriculture: PPP Transactions for 33 Silo Complexes in Nigeria

[2] 2020. Nigeria’s Grains Industry. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 July 2021].

[3] Baributsa, D. and Njoroge, A., 2020. The use and profitability of hermetic technologies for grain storage among smallholder farmers in eastern Kenya. Journal of Stored Products Research, 87, p.101618.

[4]ReliefWeb. 2021. Introduction of hermetic storage reduces food loss in Yobe – Nigeria. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 July 2021].

[5] 2020. Nigeria’s Grains Industry. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 July 2021].

[6] Alemu, G., Nigussie, Z., Haregeweyn, N., Berhanie, Z., Wondimagegnehu, B., Ayalew, Z., Molla, D., Okoyo, E. and Baributsa, D., 2021. Cost-benefit analysis of on-farm grain storage hermetic bags among small-scale maize growers in northwestern Ethiopia. Crop Protection, 143, p.105478.

[7] Paddy Likhayo, Anani Y. Bruce, Tadele Tefera, Jones Mueke, “Maize Grain Stored in Hermetic Bags: Effect of Moisture and Pest Infestation on Grain Quality”, Journal of Food Quality, vol. 2018, Article ID 2515698, 9 pages, 2018.

[8] Natural Resources Institure, 2015. Summary report on a survey of grain storage options. Univeristy of Greenwich.

[9] Hermetic storage technology for handling of dry agricultural commodities: Practice, challenges, opportunities, research, and prospects in Zimbabwe Brighton M. Mvumi, Alex A. Chigoverah

[10]  2020. Developments in the use of hermetic bags for grain storage. Burleigh Dodds Series in Agricultural Science. Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing Limited.

Fatima Jimanate Umar
Fatima holds a Masters in Sustainable Development Practice from University of Ibadan, Nigeria and a B.A in economics from Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria. She also has a Certificate of Global Diplomacy (SOAS) from University of London. She is currently working...
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