Globally, post-harvest loss is a leading cause of food insecurity. According to the World Food Programme, in some developing countries, smallholder farmers lose up to 40% of their harvest due to the uptake of conventional agricultural methods of storage, food processing and preservation.

Conventional methods have replaced indigenous knowledge and practice (IKP) in agriculture, impacting both consumers and farmers and resulting in challenges such as financial loss, hunger, and poor health conditions.  To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero hunger by 2030, there is a need to incorporate IKP in agricultural practice to improve food security.

Fredrick Omara headshot

Fredrick Omara

In October 2023, Commonwealth Alumnus Fredrick Omara delivered a sensitisation workshop and radio awareness talk show to promote IKP to reduce post-harvest losses (PHL) in Uganda.

Fredrick Omara is an Agricultural Project Officer at Action for Child Social and Economic Transformation (ACSET) Uganda. He is passionate about supporting farmers from rural communities to revive IKP in agriculture.

Addressing post-harvest losses

In Uganda, PHL in key staple food crops such as maize, rice, and legumes is relatively high. PHL affects food security, household income, and nutritional health. Most government interventions prioritise conventional technologies to reduce PHL, such as modern storage facilities.

These interventions are expensive, making them unaffordable and unsustainable for many smallholder farmers. Alongside PHL, many farmers in northern Uganda are recovering from the impact of insurgencies, meaning they do not have savings or disposable income to invest in conventional methods.

Indigenous knowledge on traditional granaries and botanical plants for low cost and effective pest management is declining due to a lack of awareness. To address this challenge, Fredrick designed a series of activities to increase smallholder farmers’ awareness on IKP in post-harvest handling. Through the activity he aimed to rejuvenate interest in the use of IKP and how it can be applied in post-harvest management.

Spreading awareness to smallholder farmers

In October and November 2023, Fredrick delivered three training workshops for 60 farmers from Kole, Kwania, and Amolatar districts. Most of the farmers belonged to the Village Savings and Loan Association, self-help groups and other social groups.

A group photo of farmers of Bala-Kole district together with the facilitator after the training

A group photo of farmers of Bala-Kole district together with the facilitator after the training

Along with the support facilitator Mr Jannan Obapo who supported delivering training and sensitization, Fredrick introduced the concept of IKP, PHL and its causes and effects. He explained how PHL is a national and global challenge affecting farmers’ livelihoods. Following this, he conducted a session on implementing indigenous practices during crucial post-harvest stages including drying, threshing and storage. Through a practical demonstration, Fredrick showed ways in which farmers can implement IKP to efficiently store crops using insecticidal plants, such as tobacco leaves, to control pests during storage.

Farmers were invited to participate in focus group discussions on a range of topics related to IKP, such as the reasons for the decline in IKP in postharvest management, how to restore IKP, and existing awareness on indigenous post-harvest practices. They shared several reasons for the decline of IKP, such as theft, disappearance of natural resources, and crucially a greater trust on modern post-harvest practices over indigenous postharvest practices.

To understand the impact of the workshops, Fredrick conducted pre- and post-training assessments through verbal feedback. Post-training, farmers indicated being more aware about indigenous post-harvest practices and its role in averting PHL. Farmers reported they were now implementing IKP practice such as the use of dry blackberry leaves as a method of pest control while storing crops such as maize.

“I wasn’t aware that dry blackberry leaves can deter storage pest when applied to stored grains and cereals. As such, instead of buying pesticides for storage pest control, I will be using dry blackberry leaves during storage to help prevent storage pest”.  Farmer from Amolatar district.

Reaching the wider community through radio

Fredrick Omara delivering a radio talk show on Voice of Lango FM-Lira

Fredrick Omara delivering a radio talk show on Voice of Lango FM-Lira

On 28 November, Fredrick delivered a 30-minute radio talk show designed to raise awareness on PHL and ways to manage this through IKP. He collaborated with local radio station, Voice of Lango (VOL) FM, to broadcast to most districts in northern Uganda and reach his target audience of private and public agricultural extension workers, non-governmental organisations, produce buyers, politicians, and local government.

Fredrick introduced the concept and important role of IKP in post-harvest management. He highlighted the causes and effects of PHL on farmers and on the country’s economy. To tackle this, he shared strategies to mainstream IKP in agricultural development interventions and discussed international frameworks and declarations supporting this. He concluded by encouraging listeners to revitalise the use of indigenous knowledge in post-harvest management.

After the talk, the show received five calls from farmers emphasising the need for more awareness and similar talk shows on adopting IKP in post-harvest management. Callers also shared their reasons for not practicing IKP but felt motivated after the talk show to apply indigenous post-harvest practices to safely handle their agricultural produce.

“Indigenous practices like the use of traditional granaries for storage of cereals and grains is no longer commonly being used due to issue of burglary and theft on such structures.” A radio talk show listener from Kole district

Encouraging farmers to adapt IKP strategies

In February 2024, Fredrick conducted a follow-up visit to famers who participated in the training workshops. His visit coincided with the crop harvesting and storage season to assess the implementation of IKP during post-harvest.

Fredrick plans to continue supporting and sensitising farmers on IKP for post-harvest management by delivering similar training in other districts. He hopes to assess existing knowledge gaps in integrating IKP to address PHL and provide consultation on appropriate intervention strategies as part of future projects.

Fredrick Omara is a 2021 Commonwealth Shared Scholar from Uganda. He completed an MSc in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security from Royal Agricultural University.