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The center brings Iowa State expertise together with indigenous knowledge to foster solutions to the region’s low crop yield and devastating amounts of post-harvest loss. Resulting strategies have enabled many farmers to meet their families’ nutritional needs for the first time, diversify their families’ diets and earn an income through the sale of excess produce.
Small farmers in the Kamuli District face multiple challenges when it comes to post-harvest grain handling. Tom Brumm, ISU associate professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering, says post-harvest losses of up to 50 percent are not uncommon, primarily due to mold and weevil infestation. “Often, farmers don’t have a good way to dry their maize, they don’t have a good way to tell when the grain is dry enough to store, and they don’t have a good way to store it,” he says. Compounding those problems is a lack of understanding among farmers about the risks posed by mold often found in grain that has been improperly dried or stored.
Learning more about how farmers perceive those risks was among the assignments tackled by Rachael Barnes, an ISU senior studying biological systems engineering and global resource systems, during her eight-week internship in Uganda in 2017. Barnes had been a service-learning student in 2016 and was eager to return to the Kamuli district. Her internship activities included surveying more than 100 farmers and community members about post-harvest practices and knowledge of mold, implementing a maize management plan to promote safe grain storage at primary schools where maize is fed to students and improving post-harvest handling training. “Maize serves as a staple crop globally and as a means of food security for many communities, including Kamuli,” Barnes explains.
“By focusing on the community’s perception of mold and aflatoxins in maize, the ISU-Uganda Program can enhance the district’s health and well-being.”
Barnes found that most farmers have heard about aflatoxin, a toxin that can be created by mold. However, farmers seldom avoid moldy maize because they don’t understand its causes or effects. Barnes also found notable differences in the understanding of mold and aflatoxins based on gender, education, age and involvement with the Nutrition Education Centers.
In addition to a deeper appreciation for the value of community education, Barnes says her internship experience also gave her a better understanding of development work. “Every decision must be thought out to ensure it is a sustainable practice and aligned with what the community wants and needs.”
Pictured: Rachael Barnes
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