Community silos benefit farmers and food security
The East African Grain Council recently announced that post-harvest losses in the region are estimated at Ksh 134.4 billion (or US $1.6 million) a year. That’s almost equivalent to the total food aid received in East Africa annually! Poor transportation, drying and storage, pest infestation, disease and market access challenges are the main causes of the loss. And then there are the buying and selling issues faced by the farmers themselves…
“We went through many problems,” says Benedict Kimwele, chairperson of Musavani FFLS community based organisation (CBO) in Kitui County, Kenya. “We had no seeds during planting season, we lacked food, there was overpricing of foods, there was no constant pricing.”
Crop storage was also a constant challenge. In the past, when sisal bags were used to store harvests, Kimwele says they did not keep the cereals for long, which led to interrupted supplies throughout the year.
The Musavani CBO was established in 2012 as a seed bank to supply farmers during drought. But it has evolved to become a local answer to the challenges of food insecurity and post-harvest loss.
The CBO has developed custom-made metal silos for storing harvested crops. They are durable, portable and can be kept indoors. They also keep cereals fresh for as long as 30 years. There are 75 CBO members who store their harvests – mostly green grams and barley – in 28 silos. Anyone can join, for sustainability sake there is a registration fee of KSh 20, and then KSh 3 (less than US $1) per 1kg of cereal stored.
At the end of the harvest season, each member brings their cereals, weighs them, records the amount and then stores them until they are sold. Burning candles inside the silos before use removes all oxygen and prevents the development of aflatoxin, a dangerous fungal toxin that commonly contaminates maize and other crops.
This is all part of a greater drive by Nairobi NGO, Mumoni and Kyuso Organisation for Rural Development and Active Participation (MUKY-ORDAP), which has brought together several CBOs, including Musavani FFLS, to work towards food security in the region. Ruth Samuel from MUKY-ORDAP says the silos have helped farmers reduce losses during harvest, post-harvest, storage and pre-consumption stages. They’ve also helped to cut out middlemen, secure farmers more profit, and guarantee food processors and consumers quality produce at affordable, predictable rates.
This means that farmers and their customers reap the benefits of this innovation. Buyers can visit one location and get cereal supplies in bulk. Farmers can store their produce – free from the worry of weevils or mold – until market prices are favourable. Plus, because CBO members store and market their cereals as a group, they can avoid transport costs and secure the best possible sale price for all.
“As a group, we have made our area self-sufficient in [terms of ] food,” says Kimwele. “There is no exploitation by middlemen, and we no longer have problems with lack of seeds.”
In 2013 the group sold over 12 000kg of green grams, worth more than KSh 800 000 (US $9 195) – no small amount in a rural economy. The money was distributed between members according to their contribution of cereals stored. An amount of KSh 36 000 (US $ 413) was also kept in the bank as a reserve for the group.
MUKY-ORDAP’s Ruth Samuel says the silo technology has been adopted in four districts, with five CBOs now involved. “[The silos] are in high demand from farmers and also boarding schools that want to store their cereals for a long time, so as not to be destroyed by pests,” she says.
So the project has clearly made a manifold difference in local people’s lives. Local administrator and CBO member Joshua Ngundi says it has improved the income per-capita and supports close to 300 families of minimum five people each. “It has helped parents to pay their school fees and hospital bills,” he adds. “They have enough food for their families. We have no shortage like before.”
This article is a continuation of the ← Community slaughterhouse turns waste into portable biogas (Part 1)
Go here for → Local journalists use drones to elevate African news (Part 3)