Reducing postharvest losses in shallots in Indonesia

Contributing to the reduction of food losses is one of the topics on which Netherlands Food Partnership supports collaborations working towards more sustainable food systems. A recent pilot in the shallots value chain in Indonesia has generated valuable insights and learnings on practical and implementable solutions for farmers.

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In 2018, a consortium consisting of AgriProFocus (APF), Bopinc, Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and the Postharvest Network (PHN) set the ambition to help reduce the amount of postharvest losses in the shallots value chain in Indonesia. Losses that, especially in the wet season, run up to 70%. After a scoping study, local farmers were identified as the main problem owners of these losses. These farmers faced high losses during the wet season and high purchasing prices from traders for seed bulbs. Also, due to limited storage possibilities they were forced to sell a large part of their shallots immediately after harvest influencing the sales price. Therefore a pilot was conducted to reduce the amount of on-farm shallot losses, focusing on seed bulbs that are used as planting material for the subsequent season.

Three low-tech solutions developed

For this pilot the consortium developed solutions based on the stages in the process with the potential for the biggest impact to be reached; affordable and appropriate for the on-the-ground reality of these farmers.

  1. Improved planting and growing. Introduction of dipping of shallot bulbs in fungicide before planting and the spraying of fungicide during the growing season.
  2. Improved curing. Introduction of drying beds that are elevated from the ground to reduce moisture content and increase airflow for better and faster drying.
  3. Improved storage. Adaptation of an existing storage room to improve temperature and humidity control and mitigation through air holes, ventilators and measuring devices.

17 farmers tested developed solutions

During two pilot rounds (July 2019 - February 2020 & March 2020 - October 2020) the developed solutions were tested among a group of 17 farmers. The main outcomes of the pilot were:

  • The practice of dipping shallots in fungicide solution resulted in an estimated reduction of seed bulbs lost to rot after planting from an estimated 20% to <5%. This in turn leads to approximately 20% more shallots in the field and an estimated 20% yield increase.
  • Farmers indicated that, when using their stored seed bulbs from the improved storage from the previous season, growth already started 1 day after planting compared to 10 days for fresh bulbs. This quick grow start makes the crop less vulnerable to fungus attacks.
  • Farmers indicate that they see a big advantage in storing seed bulbs because it saves substantially on capital needs for planting the new crop.
  • Farmers are outspoken on the benefits of dipping seed bulbs in a fungicide solution. They mention protection for several weeks against rot (but also earthworm and caterpillar) and the treatment itself is very efficient as it needs limited chemicals. A reduction in chemical use would also lead to a reduction of the costs of crop protection, which farmers indicated is an issue.
  • Farmers indicate that improved curing on racks goes 4 days faster than drying on the ground and results in drier and much better-quality seed bulbs for storage.
  • Although not mentioned as a specific intervention, practice showed that the increased attention among farmers for measuring influenced their prudence in selecting bulbs for storage, and it is important to mention that removing any damaged bulbs before putting them in storage is important to reduce storage losses.
  • Data analysis shows a 6.3% reduction in storage loss in weight of seed bulbs.

In the process of executing the pilot we found that nudging farmers from traditional beliefs and practices to improved practices was at least equally important as the technical part of the solutions. Therefore a behavior change communication strategy was developed, including the development of t-shirts, that served as a manual for the different steps of the piloted practices, and an animation video informing farmers about the potential gains of the piloted practices.

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T-shirt showing different steps of the piloted practices

Results and lessons learned during the project were presented during two different webinars in October and November 2020.

Opportunities for further action:

  • Fine tuning of pilot demonstrations by focusing more on stricter sorting, application of different fungicides, improving storage management techniques and exploration of eco-friendly/organic treatments.
  • Exploration of new collaborations for further roll-out of behavior change communication campaign.
  • Further business modelling to calculate exact economic implications of improved practices.
  • Development of a financial scheme for farmers to make the purchase of fungicides or other crop protection agents more accessible.
  • Increased attention for gender aspects.

If you are interested in following up on the above mentioned opportunities or others that relate to this pilot, please do not hesitate to contact Netherlands Food Partnership.


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Ibrahim Palaz

Netherlands Food Partnership

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