Harvesting (Processing & Storage)


No special techniques are involved Most West African are harvested by hand, using a cutlass, large knife or, a curved sickle-shaped blade, the main objective being to cut the crop with minimum damage to the harvested product and transport it as rapidly as possible to the farmstead where it is either prepared for home
consumption or for storage.

Mechanised harvesting is still comparatively rare in West Africa, but some crops are being grown on a large scale, where some degree of mechanisation is necessary if the crops are not to be left too long in the field. If this occurs, damage from animals, birds and the natural shedding or dropping of the ripe seeds can considerably reduce the final yield.

Combine harvesters are in use in some areas for harvesting rice and maize and experimental groundnut harvesters have been tested in some parts of West Africa. The mechanised harvesting of cassava, yam and other root crops is a possibility which is being actively explored since the labour requirements for harvesting these major crops are considerable.

Processing and storage: 
Reference to the processing and storage of individual crops is made later in this chapter, but some aspects of these techniques are common to many crops. In general, the losses which occur during the preparation and storage of farm crops are very considerable and
are due mainly to damage by insects and fungi during the storage period.

Processing: This is the term given to those operations which take place after harvesting, and which lead to the production of the commodity which is either used by the farmer, sent to the market or sold to the various agencies which deal with export crops. Many of the basic processing operations such as hulling or decorative milling, grinding, fermenting, starch extraction or latex production may be carried out at various levels, using a range of equipment from farms operated 
machinery such as maize shellers, cassava raspers, cocoa fermenting trays, oil palm presses and fibre decorticators to factory tolerated machinery which involves a high level of technology. The effectiveness of any particular process often depends on the type of machinery available, the level of efficiency at which it is used and, primarily, in the quality and condition of the crop which is being used to produce the final commodity. The use of the correct settings and adjustments on machinery such as palm nut crackers and groundnut decorticators is most important, but it is equally necessary to maintain the equipment in good condition by regular inspection and servicing of the moving parts.

Storage: Storage losses are generally considerable in tropical areas, due to high temperatures and humidity which
encourage the spread of diseases and pests in stored products.
An additional factor, however, is that farm storage facilities are often inadequate to deal with the volume of produce at seasonal peaks and they are frequently not equipped to provide the requirements for more than a limited amount of the crop. This situation can lead to much of the crop being wasted.

Storage sheds and barns should be kept clean at all times and should be treated with insecticides such as lindane to keep down insect infestation. Containers such as sacks and boxes used for storage should be cleaned and disinfected after use and every effort made to reduce damage by rats and other animals by making storage areas secure against their entry. Good ventilation is important in storage areas, but the roof and side walls should be weather-proof. Wherever  possible, sacks and containers of  produce should be raised above floor
level, on battens, to increase the circulation of air and reduce contact with moisture which may accumulate
on the floor during the wet season. If basic precautions such as these are taken, a significantly greater amount of the produce of the farm will become 
available either for home consumption or for resale.

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