By Hazem Badr
[CAIRO] A truck designed locally to put an end to wheat losses during transport from fields to storage silos is set for testing in Egypt this summer.
During the harvesting season in Egypt, it is common to see grains scattered across routes used by transport vehicles. This is due to bumpy roads, too many bags of wheat stacked on these vehicles, or bad packaging.
According to the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trading, the wheat lost during transport currently amounts to one-sixth of the local harvest, and was almost half three years ago. The country loses 15 per cent of the grain destined for its silos, costing the government about 2 billion Egyptian pounds (approximately US$1.1 million).
“The truck is also equipped with a precise system to record the weight of the crop and estimate the price for the farmer in the field.”
Four years ago, the former Egyptian Minister of Supply decided to tackle the problem by asking the Academy of Scientific Research to dedicate a fund to find a solution.
The truck was designed by an Egyptian team from the Agricultural Engineering Research Institute (AENRI), under the leadership of the institute’s vice chairman for research Mohamed Al-Kholy. It was funded by a grant of one million Egyptian pounds (approximately US$56,000) from the Academy.
It was evaluated last December, and “will be tested [during the] next harvest season in June”, Al-Kholy confirmed in an interview with SciDev.Net.
He explains that the design features a pneumatic system which uses compressed air to pull the grains inside the vehicle. This ensures that the wheat can be transported without any damage, even on bumpy roads.
Al-Kholy is confident the trailer will “address all the problems related to the process of transporting wheat harvest”. Although its primary objective is to facilitate transportation to eliminate waste, he says its potential benefits go beyond that.
For example, it also addresses one of the main problems associated with the transportation process: the fact that officials cannot weigh the wheat accurately using manual tools at storage silos, where supplies may arrive either damaged or containing a high amount of impurities due to the poor packing.
According to Al-Kholy, the truck separates out impurities from the grains using the difference between their weights: working on the principle of critical velocity, the air inside the vehicle retains the grains while removing the impurities.
Verifying the grade of the wheat arriving at silos, which is based on the personal assessment of an official, is another problem this invention aims to solve. ‟The truck is also equipped with a precise system to record the weight of the crop and estimate the price for the farmer in the field,” says Al-Kholy.
He explains that these issues do not affect just the farmer, but also the state, which ends up paying a price for high-grade wheat when in fact it receives cargo with a large amount of damaged grain.
‟The former minister of Supply intends [has planned for] to produce 600 trucks to cover the entire country,” Al-Kholy added.
Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, head of the Faculty of Agriculture at Zagazig University in Egypt, says the innovation could also be used to transport imported grain, which is subject to similar problems.
According to Abdel-Moneim, two wheat shipments that arrived in Egypt from France and Romania a few months ago were rejected because they contained poppy seeds. ‟The use of a truck with these specifications will protect us from such errors completely due to its ability to separate impurities from the grains,” he says.
However, Al-Kholy fears for the future of the innovation in light of the upcoming presidential elections in March. ‟The Minister of Scientific Research, Khalid Abdul Ghaffar expressed his enthusiasm for this product and promised to communicate with his colleague, the Minister of Supply, Ali Al-Meselhi, to speed up its circulation all over the country. Now, there is a fear that this effort [may be] lost with ministerial changes.”