Nelly Bassily | July 19, 2010
Weevils used to nibble away at poorly stored seeds in the Cabo Delgado Province of northern Mozambique. But now, farmers are busy weaving bamboo strips together to form cylindrical storage silos coated with brown clay. The structures are called Tethere silos. They have two openings: one at the top to fill it with seeds, and one at the bottom, to empty the seeds.
In the Maririni village of Cabo Delgado province, Gilberto Tethere is lovingly called “Velho Tethere” (old Tethere in Portuguese). Mr. Tethere invented what is now being called the “Zero Emissions ‘Fridge’ for Rural Africa” (ZEFRA) or Tethere silo. The idea came to him after attending a workshop on using metal silos to store seeds. Finding the metal silo too expensive, Mr. Tethere reconstructed the silo with local materials and traditional building techniques.
The Swiss NGO Helvetas first introduced metal silos to farmers. “We tried to introduce a metal silo in northern Mozambique which was quite successful in Central America, but it proved to be too expensive because of the material and transportation costs. Gilberto Tethere liked the design and decided to rebuild the silo using local materials,” explains Christian Steiner, regional coordinator of Helvetas Mozambique.
The silo has many advantages. It can help subsistence farmers and their families adapt to the extended “hunger period.” This is caused by the drought which usually lasts from October to January in northern Mozambique. Mr. Tethere’s silo has all the features of the original and more expensive metal storage facility, but is affordable for poor farmers. On average, a Tethere silo that can store 250 kilograms costs about 430 Mozambican meticals (about 10 Euros or 12 American dollars) for materials and labour. By contrast, the materials for a metal silo that stores 200 kilograms cost about 4800 meticals (about 106 Euros or 137 American dollars).
The clay frame of the Tethere silo creates an almost airtight seal. This increases the effectiveness of the herbal repellents produced from ashes, eucalyptus tree and other local plants. The repellents prevent rodents and insects such as the granary weevil from consuming stored grains.
Mr. Steiner says that, because the silo is covered in clay and placed under a grass roof, it keeps stored grains much cooler than the outside temperature. The Tethere silo is used mainly to store beans, maize, ground nuts and sesame, but can also be used for rice, millet and sorghum.
Ernesto Molid is a farmer who uses the silo. Mr. Molid says that, before having a ZEFRA silo, he depended on other people for seeds. This dependence was especially problematic when it was time to sow his field. Now that he has his own silo, he depends on no one. The low-cost, improved silo allows him to store his seeds properly and save them for the next planting season.
So far, more than 800 silos have been built and used, each of them benefiting an average of 10 families. Currently, Helvetas is upscaling the project to eight districts in the northern provinces of Nampula and Cabo Delgado. Mr. Steiner says they hope to build 2000 silos for individual use and 90 community seed banks.