Maize quality preservation in Tropics

The production of maize can be increased either by expanding acreage or by increasing the yield per hectare. But, it is very important that whatever we produce, must be used most efficiently and the losses need to be minimized. The average loss incurred during the post-harvest storage of maize is around ~7 percent. Part of this loss can definitely be arrested by adopting proper storage technology.
As it is well known, the molds like Aspergillus can colonize and contaminate maize very quickly during the storage. The moisture present in stored maize along with temperature and humidity in the environment favors its growth. The beginning of Aspergillus contamination in maize also triggers pest infestation and biodegradation. Aspergillus excretes toxins like Aflatoxins in the grain, which is of major concern as it has potential carcinogenic effect on humans and animals. With the growing concern over food safety, Aflatoxins are now closely monitored throughout the supply chain of food and feed processing industry, which has negatively impacted the maize prices.
In the last 2 decades, the poultry industry has shown excellent growth which is now capable of producing 2.5 kg of broiler meat at 35 days of age and white egg layers producing 330 eggs in 52 weeks. In India, maize or other grains, which are unfit for human consumption, are generally used in animal rations. But with the improved productivity, use of contaminated maize is no more an option for the livestock industry and even the immunity of farm animals is now almost all time low.
Higher moisture content (free water) in the maize results in moisture migration (along with spontaneous heating) due to day and night temperature differential in the stored mass. This is a major reason for mold infestation that triggers spoilage process. This signifies the importance of maize drying. But unfortunately, the technology is quite expensive and its availability and accessibility to the maize growers and stockers is also very limited.
Grain to retain the moisture
The solution lies in deliquescent technology, the technology is used currently in all seasons. It helps the grain to retain the moisture and thus stops moisture discharge from the endosperm, thus nipping the bud of mold formation even before it could start. As it prevents migration of free water thus also saves on pest management. The technology can save ~7 percent of what would have been lost otherwise. Moreover, this is an organic as well as non-toxic material, and even available at a exponentially lesser cost than mold inhibition, aeration, fumigation and other such methods.
Though in recent years, private players are much more aware about the quality preservation during storage and also its importance, but lack of the basic infrastructure is certainly a concern for grain storage. To resolve the problem, it needs to be readdressed, by decentralizing and storage of grain in a more sustainable and cost effective manner, at the farmer level. This technology certainly has the potential.

by Dr Naveen Kumar, Delst