Post-Harvest Handling Practices and Losses for Legumes and Starchy Staples in Uganda
High postharvest losses in developing countries negate the efforts geared towards improving food security. Poor produce quality including high prevalence of mycotoxin contamination is another significant problem. Appropriate postharvest handling and processing provide opportunities to reduce postharvest losses and improve food safety. This study was aimed at establishing the postharvest handling practices and estimating qualitative and quantitative postharvest losses for maize, millet, sorghum, beans, groundnuts, cassava, and sweet potatoes among farmers in 3 districts (Kamuli, Apac and Nakasongola) in Uganda, representing different agro-ecological zones. The study was done in late August 2014 after the first season harvests (June-August). Farmer interviews, focus group discussions and key informant interviews were used to collect data on postharvest loss estimates and postharvest handling practices. Samples of the different foods were collected and analyzed for physical quality characteristics, mould count and aflatoxin contamination using standard laboratory procedures. The results show predominance of rudimentary and inappropriate postharvest handling methods. Postharvest loss estimates were generally high, with values of 41%, 33%, 33%, 26%, 31%, 22%, 17% and 19% for maize, millet, sorghum, beans, groundnuts, cowpea, sweet potatoes and cassava respectively. The highest loss for all the crops was recorded at storage. Prevalence of aflatoxin contamination was 44%, 91%, 55%, 36%, 35% and 60% for maize, sorghum, groundnuts, millet, sweet potatoes and cassava respectively. Sorghum, maize and groundnuts were found to have the highest aflatoxin contamination levels. Chi-square test (p = 0.024, odds ratio = 5) showed that grain dried on bare ground had higher aflatoxin levels than that dried on a covered surface. The findings of this study reveal a serious need for postharvest interventions to address food security.