The state of Mato Grosso, home to large-scale soybean and maize farming, is a key region for Brazilian export production. But a lot of grain is lost on its way to port. Post-harvest losses amount to between ten and twelve per cent – a large volume for an industrialised emerging economy.
Peter Goldsmith, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, has studied the causes of this wastage. He found that the farmers operate under great time pressure because they are in a rush to plant a second crop before the rainy season sets in. The first losses are caused by working too fast and using poorly maintained harvesting equipment. Then, the poor condition of roads leading to the international ports and the badly covered trucks cause serious wastage, with grain piling up along the roadside. The farmers know this is happening but consider the losses somehow acceptable. On the one hand, the post-harvest losses appear to be “less expensive” than not getting on with the second harvest. On the other, hardly anyone is giving them a positive example of how overland transport can be done with minimal crop wastage. The farmers have a view of “negligible or unavoidable losses” that differs from the one held by the agronomists.
This is, however, an important point because it is precisely regions like Mato Grosso that can play a crucial role in feeding the world’s population. The Southern Hemisphere will have to bear the brunt of meeting global food demands – and do so under difficult conditions such as an extreme rainy season, poor-quality soils and long distances to markets.
To raise awareness among farmers about the need for action on post-harvest losses, Goldsmith calls for improved technical training. Farmers need to learn how to optimise work processes, keep harvesting machines running efficiently and fit their trucks with proper bed-liners and tarpaulins to protect the grain.
The study “Managerial factors affecting post-harvest loss: the case of Mato Grosso, Brazil” has been published in the International Journal of Agricultural Management (issue: Vol. 3, no. 4, July 2014).
Roland Krieg, Journalist, Berlin