Farmers in Malawi may be losing an estimated one-third of their crop while it is in storage. Such post-harvest losses happen not only in Malawi, or across Africa. Farmers in Central America suffer too. But they have reduced their post-harvest losses by using metal storage silos. The method has now been brought to Malawi by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, or CIMMYT, and World Vision.
In 2007, metal silos were supplied to Malawian farmers by a private company. Essau Phiri works with World Vision-Malawi. He says, “Over the past few years, farmers have recorded high maize harvests, and now even request silos of a 7.5 tonne capacity.”
As demand for the silos grew, project staff worried that metalworkers untrained in the specific design might produce inferior silos. So CIMMYT decided to train local artisans. Jose Contreras is an expert in silo construction from El Salvador, in Central America. In 2009, he helped train artisans from Dowa and Mchinji regions in Malawi. He taught them how to make silos of different sizes, how to cut metal sheets, as well as soldering and handling skills.
Fred Kanampiu is an agronomist with CIMMYT. He coordinated the training sessions. He says, “The focus of the project is to ensure that farmers use only well-fabricated, high quality metal silos; that is why we are training the artisans who will make and sell these silos. We are promoting the technology while improving the artisans’ skills.”
Douglas Kathakamba is an artisan from Mchinji region who has benefited from the project. He launched a metal work business making ox carts, door and window frames, and bicycle ambulances. But he has earned even greater profits by building metal silos. With this income, he has set up a new workshop, sent his five children to school, and even covered the costs of university studies for two adopted children.
Mr. Kathakamba attracts many customers through word of mouth. He is now an ardent supporter of the metal silo.
In Kachilika village in northern Malawi, he recently worked with a farmers’ club that had never heard of metal silos. The 25 members store their grain communally. After Mr. Kathakamba constructed and donated a silo, they commissioned him to build four more. With the proceeds from increased grain sales, the club members now pay for their children’s schooling and purchase items such as clothing, domestic products, and farm inputs.
Andrew Kasalika is the club chairman. He says, “Before the introduction of silos, we were using sacks and nkhokwe (the traditional granary), but we were not able to save much. Now, we can say that our lives have changed.”
The price of the silos is a concern. They cost between 75 and 350 American dollars. This investment is out of reach for many farmers in Malawi. Dr. Tadele Tefera, a scientist with CIMMYT, coordinates the metal silo project. He says, “Now we are trying to have … a kind of revolving loan fund in which farmers can have a loan to buy the silo and after some time they can sell their grains and put back the money.” Microfinancing would also help more artisans enter the emerging silo industry, as current start-up costs are high.
Dr. Tefera says, “Metal silos bring food security to the poor. Not only what farmers harvest, but more importantly, what they store over seasons, could make a difference in their livelihoods.”