Africa: The culture of using sacks, wooden crates, and containers as a measure of weight for farm produce
If you are from either West or East Africa, particularly Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya or Tanzania, you must have noticed that rarely do people measure the weight of farm produce using a weighing scale.
Whether you are buying directly from the farmer at farm-gate, or from a wholesale markets, people always use sacks, wooden crates, or small containers to estimate the weight of produce.
In Ghana [and many west and East African countries] for instance, there are specially designed sacks that are used to package maize, carrots, potatoes, and onions. Maize sacks hold up to 90 kg while for the rest of the produce it should not exceed 50 kg.
It is an assumption that if packed to the brim, these sacks or crates should weigh as expected with little margin of error.
The tradition of using containers in the place of weighing scale dates for a very long time. Its adoption was based on the fact that:
- Farmers/buyer did not possess a weighing scale machine and hence they had to invent an equivalent,
- People with weighing scale machine were least trusted because they used to manipulate the machines to reflect adjusted weights.
Calibration of weighing scale machine was non-existent and hence these machines were seen as ways to steal from the buyer or the seller depending on who owns the machine.
In Ghana, the lack of use of weighing machines and the use of other methods of produce weight estimation has been a subject of controversial talks especially between farmers and middlemen, but it has always ended with the farmers in the receiving end.
Use of sacks, crates, and containers has led to farmers losing almost half of their produce. As you can see from the photos below, buyers especially middlemen always add an extension to the sack or container to allow space for more produce to be packed, but the price still remains that of a 50 kg bag.
Most of the times the extension holds more goods even more than the main sack or container, especially for cassava.
There exist various implication of this practice on us as a society and that of agriculture as a value chain. The main people who suffer the most are our gallant poor farmers.
These middle men in this part of the world make so much profit at the expense of the poor farmers – they are able to take their children to best schools and up to the university level while many children of farmers languish in abject poverty in their respective villages.
Only few farmers are able to send their children to the university and so those children struggle to survive whiles in school to complete their programmes.
In my view, the failure to use weighing machine is an indicator of deep-rooted integrity issues among our society especially those working along the agriculture values chains.
It is hard to trust someone who is buying from/selling to you using their weighing machine especially if you do not have your own to countercheck.
Even though the County governments in Kenya for instance have put in place measures to issue certificates for calibrated weigh scales, the process of issuance of these certificates is seen as one of the most corruption-filled activities by county governments.
In conclusion, what is being communicated in this article is that if people have good integrity, we can go back to use of weighing machines instead of sacks and crates.