Paddy food system research, Bangladesh 

Bangladesh’s smallholder farmers bear the cost of climate change. With multiple rice production seasons each year, harvests inevitably come during rainy periods and open-air grain drying has become impractical. There is a critical need for affordable and accessible drying and moisture management solutions that minimize postharvest and build smallholder farmers’ resilience to climate change. Through a long-standing partnership with Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU), Mymensingh, ADMI has aided the development of appropriate drying technology, piloted the use of hermetic bags, explored alternative storage methods such as hermetic cocoons and metal bins, built capacity through lab facilities, and engaged in policy through training and research. The multifaceted and integrated set of interventions has become a success story for modernizing postharvest management. 

Research for appropriate grain drying and storage 

The BAU-STR dryer developed by BAU within the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss (PHLIL) is an example of holistic research funded by ADMI that has taken the technology through technical validation and piloting with male and female farmers, to scaling with government support. The dryer has been adapted to farmers’ needs, can be locally manufactured through trained fabricators (Bhai Bhai Engineering and Kamal Machine Tools) and collaborations with the private sector (ACI Motors) for distribution. Moreover, specific research ensures the dryer is gender-sensitive and accessible to women farmers who are responsible for grain drying. In 2020 alone, more than 1,000 Bangladeshi producers have trained on or used one of the 197 BAU-STR dryers currently in the field. Additionally, the Government of Bangladesh announced subsidies to support farmers in the purchase of up to 5,000 BAU-STR dryers, exhibiting government acceptance of the dryer.   

To aid in monsoon season paddy harvest and in response to climate change, BAU has developed a 12-ton recirculating batch grain dryer in a public-private partnership with Moti Auto Rice Mill, a small-scale private sector rice-milling enterprise. Small- and medium-scale private rice husking mills handle 45% of total paddy production in Bangladesh and are a market for smallholder farmers selling their harvest. Millers reported a rise in smallholder farmers selling “wet paddy,” while farmers complain of traders’ unwillingness to buy such grain at an acceptable price. In response to local demand, BAU is collaborating with Moti Auto Rice Mill to develop and manufacture 12-ton dryers with locally available parts and components in the expectation that such dryers will enable millers to be a more reliable market for smallholders.  

The 12-ton dryer is unique because it matches the capacity of the local husking mills, enabling them to maintain good capacity utilization regardless of weather. Moreover, the dryers can dry either paddy or parboiled rice, unlike other available dryers. This combination of scale and versatility makes it easier for existing mills to operate year-round and provide a more reliable market for smallholder farmers. With just 25% of Bangladesh’s 14,500 small-scale mills adopting the dryer, 1.4 to 1.5 million farmers could have a stable market for Boro or Aus harvest, despite high moisture content in grain during those harvest periods, reducing their risk.  

With respect to grain storage, BAU has researched the effectiveness of various hermetic bags, developed a contextually appropriate durable near-hermetic metal bin that can be locally produced, and conducted field experiments with hermetic cocoons for off-farm storage by private millers (Moti Auto Rice Mill) and public seed storage warehouses (BADC).  

Building human and institutional capacity through laboratory facilities and global engagement 

Building human and institutional capacity is key to ADMI’s work. Through collaborative research projects between BAU and UIUC, engagement in global conferences, and establishment of postharvest research laboratories, ADMI is ensuring the sustainability of postharvest loss research initiatives at BAU.  

In 2017, BAU opened a new Post-Harvest Loss Reduction Lab to serve as a research and training center for postharvest loss problems and solutions. Through the lab’s equipment for drying and storage technologies and mycotoxin analysis, BAU has engaged with faculty and students to develop new postharvest loss prevention technologies.  

The close partnership between BAU and ADMI/University of Illinois has increased the research, extension, and education capacity at BAU. For example, BAU and UIUC have closely collaborated on multiple research projects such as testing hermetic cocoons at the rice mill, developing metal hermetic storage, and the adaptation of the BAU-STR dryer through the USAID -funded PHLIL and Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium (ASMC). In 2019, both labs collaborated in training BAU faculty and students in conducting gender technology assessments through field-based qualitative research on harvesting equipment. BAU further utilized the methodology and training to conduct four additional gender assessments covering various technologies such as hermetic bags, BAU-STR dryer, planter, and rice transplanter. BAU has also engaged deeply in ADMI-led global convenings such as the Postharvest Congress in Rome and the Forum in New Delhi, which has led to recognition for research and training achievements on a global level. As of 2021, BAU’s increased capacity and stellar achievements have led them to become direct sub-awardees on an extension of the PHLIL project and highlighted on the USAID-funded Innovation to Impact toolkit (i2i)a collection of innovations that have demonstrated success across the five stages of impact, from ideation to scale. 

Policy engagement with the Ministry of Food 

In addition to technical innovations and technical capacity building, confronting the challenge of drying and storage in the Bangladesh food system requires an appropriate policy environment at the highest level. In collaboration with IFPRI-South Asia, on the Bangladesh Integrated Food Policy Research Program, part of the Government of Bangladesh’s Modern Food Storage Facilities Program, ADMI has built policy capacity with training programs in food systems and food policy.  

In parallel, ADMI Director Dr. Alex Winter-Nelson and graduate students Reajul Chowdhury and Shahadat Hossain analyzed the economic feasibility for private investments in modern food storage and possible policies to support better postharvest practices throughout the system. The research explored the lack of widespread private investment in improved grain storage and examined the potential for public support to stimulate greater private sector investment in modern storage. This included return on investment calculations on bulk grain silos upgrading to hermetic cocoons, assessment of grain loss prevented from conversion to such technologies, and the public support required to trigger private investment in modern storage systems. The research has opened discussion of possible reforms to import policies that could trigger the adoption of improved storage practices identified through ADMI’s work on storage with BAU. 

ADMI’s experience in India and Bangladesh has made it clear that food systems thinking leads to multidimensional interventions that can have a real impact on development. The experience also reveals the importance of partnerships for identifying interventions and executing change.