Helping smallholder farmers support their families

Minimizing Post-Harvest Loss


  • Post-harvest loss is a persistent challenge for smallholder farmers, but the uptake of new post-harvest storage technologies remains low.
  • We designed solutions to overcome behavioral barriers and encourage the adoption of promising post-harvest storage technologies.
  • Our approach and findings are likely relevant in a wide range of countries and crop value chains, and demonstrate the promise of applying a behavioral science lens at all stages of the program or product lifestyle.

The Challenge

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods. Food insecurity is common, yet post-harvest food loss occurs to a high degree and is prevalent across crops and contexts. Reducing post harvest loss could increase income for millions of smallholder farms, as well as bolster food security, nutritional outcomes, and contribute to poverty reduction. New post-harvest storage technologies (such as PICS bags, metal grain storage silos, and large hermetic storage bags) hold great potential for loss reduction, yet uptake of these technologies has been slow.


Our Approach

We partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative and implementing partners AGRA, Rural and Urban Development Initiative (RUDI), and Building Rural Incomes Through Entrepreneurship (BRITEN), to identify behavioral barriers impeding usage of promising post-harvest storage technologies and design solutions. We focused on the maize value chain in Tanzania as a case study for our work. In partnership with RUDI and BRITEN—local Tanzanian NGOs—we visited smallholder farmers, farmer cooperatives, and agro-retailers, and conducted a series of in-depth interviews with farmers and farm stakeholders.



Our primary work focused on increasing the usage of PICS bags (an inexpensive, highly effective hermetic grain storage solution) by understanding the behavioral and contextual factors that may limit adoption. Our field work revealed that although farmers intend to use PICS bags to store grain destined for household consumption, they may not always follow through on this intention. A key driver of this problem is a misalignment of available capital, intention to purchase, and need for storage. A second driver, centers on the role of present bias as a driver of short-term thinking, leading farmers to fixate on the relatively higher upfront cost of PICS bags, as compared to standard bags, despite a full return on investment in year two or three. Finally, mental models of the PICS bags may limit their appeal to farmers. PICS bags look and feel similar enough to standard grain storage bags that many farmers don’t mentally categorize them as new technologies worth a price premium.

Building on these insights, we proposed several potential design solutions. Among them were: 

  • An option for farmers to divert some of their profit at harvest time to the purchase of PICS bags, which could either be taken home immediately or delivered the following season at harvest time.
  • A salient cost-comparison tag affixed to the PICS bags, which highlights the costs per year of PICS bags and standard storage bags, making it obvious that PICS are the cost-effective choice.
  • PIC bags redesigns that enhance their functionality and increase the perceived value.



While this work centered on maize storage in Tanzania, the approach and findings are likely relevant in a wide range of countries and crop value chains. Last mile behavior change is often the critical factor for game-changing agricultural innovations. Modern inputs are only valuable if used properly, best practices are only effective if faithfully implemented, and the success of novel financing or extension mechanisms is co-dependent to some extent on farmer field-level behavior. Program designers, implementers, and evaluators can benefit from applying a behavioral science lens at all stages of the program or product lifestyle.

Interested in learning more about this work applying behavioral science to a crucial social problem? Reach out to us at or tweet at @ideas42 to join the conversation.