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Iowa State University Works With Ugandans To Improve Safety Of School Meals And Grain Storage

School Meal Uganda courtesy ISU.jpg
Jim Heemstra/Courtesy
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Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, ISU
Children at Nakanyonyi Primary School (Kumuli District, Uganda) eating lunch.

A partnership between Iowa and Uganda is helping to ensure school children get a safe, nutritious meal and farmers have a better chance of making a profit on their grain harvest.

Iowa State University’s Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods partners with Makerere University in Uganda and small-scale farmers in the Kamuli District of the East African country.

Tom Brumm, a professor of agricultural engineering at ISU, says many families pay school fees with maize, or corn, but schools could not always store the grain successfully. They were very good at documenting how much maize they brought in and how much was used in meals.

An ISU student, Rachael Barnes, led a study that compared those figures to the remaining inventory. The results were jarring.

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Jim Heemstra/courtesy
Then-Iowa State University student Rachael Barnes helps serve lunch at the Namasagali Primary School in Kamuli District, Uganda.

“Over 53 percent of the maize that they took in was lost, just gone. And a lot of that was due to insects,” Brumm says. “That’s important, that’s a whole month of school feeding.”

That data provided a wake-up call, he says. The way the school was storing the grain left it vulnerable to the insects. The project now works to supply schools with sealable plastic storage bins.

Brumm says another threat to healthy school meals was contaminated corn flour. The project used to help schools buy the flour at a local market, but then testing revealed it was contaminated with aflatoxin, which can cause liver damage and is especially toxic to children.

Brumm says at that point the team realized, “we have a moral obligation to do something about it.”

“I guess that was a little more than an aha moment,” he says, “it was a clarion call for us to change our practices.”

The project bought a mill to process grain that it began buying directly from farmers it had worked with to ensure property drying and storage.

Brumm says a microfinance endeavor made it possible for some small-scale farmers to buy tarps and the sealable grain storage bins on credit. Now those farmers can safely store their grain and sell it after harvest when the price generally goes up. Brumm says often the small investment is the difference between going hungry and having enough grain to sell for profit.

Iowa State’s work in Uganda goes back to 2003. The university is now part of the Consortium for Innovation in Post-Harvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction, which has funding from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Brumm made his comments during a webinar this week about the ongoing work.

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