Silos and mills reduce work, boost profits in Bolivia


Grinding the wheat manually takes hours every day for each woman (FAO/K.Iversen)

With the new grain mill, it only takes 15 minutes to grind wheat for all the families in Calala (FAO/K.Iversen)

Storing the maize in a silo saves an additional 20-40 percent of the harvest (FAO/K.Iversen)

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Fifteen indigenous women have been waiting patiently for FAO engineer Yeric Peric to arrive at the small settlement of Calala in the Bolivian Altiplano. Their faces light up when he appears, carrying a little red grain mill and a tall metal silo. The head of the women's group, Norma Llanos de Ruiz, is ready to welcome him with a cup of the locally fermented maize drink chicha.

Mr Peric, the local manager of an FAO post-harvest project and two TeleFood projects in the department of Potosi, needs the refreshment. It has been a tough three-hour drive across swollen streams and rough countryside to bring the treasures to the remote village. And it is already his second visit of the day to local women's groups. All in all, 600 silos and 20 grain mills have been constructed and distributed throughout the department of Potosi in eight months. Every single item has been delivered, set up and demonstrated personally by Mr Peric or one of his four technicians. The effort has been supported by TeleFood, FAO's campaign to raise awareness and funds to help end world hunger.

Ms Llanos de Ruiz and the other women in Calala have been saving for a long time for these simple but crucial tools. TeleFood paid for the materials, but the women had to scrape together funds for the labour -- US$9 for the silo and US$125 for the grain mill -- a lot of money in a village with a minimal cash economy. But in the long term, their investment will pay, protecting their harvest and helping them earn money.

From two hours to two minutes
"We are very happy. With the silo we can save our harvest, and the mill will help us save time," says Ms Llanos des Ruiz, 22. She is one of the few in the group who speaks Spanish; the others speak Quechua.

Without the mill, each woman spends between two and three hours every day grinding wheat and maize manually between two stones to get enough flour to make food for their families. When Mr Yeric demonstrates the mill and teaches the women how to handle and maintain it, the miraculous benefit of the mill becomes clear: from now on it will take less than fifteen minutes to grind enough grain for all 15 women, saving each woman almost two hours a day for other activities.

Each woman has brought around 20 kilos of maize, which they will sell. Before it is put into the new silo, it is weighed and registered in the group's diary by Socrates, Ms Llanos de Ruiz's husband and one of the few persons in the village who knows how to read and write. Then Mr Peric shows the women how to disinfect the maize in the silo to prevent pest infestation and how to seal the silo.

Silos save the grain
The women discuss when to sell the maize. They decide to wait because prices will be higher in a couple of months. But regardless of when they sell, they are almost guaranteed to earn more money than before because the silo will preserve more of their harvest, leaving them more to sell.

Traditionally the grain is stored in a loft above the fireplace in the kitchen, where the smoke helps to keep it free from pests. But this system is not very effective -- every year a big part of the harvest is lost to rats and other pests. The silo preserves an additional 20 to 40 percent of the cereal harvest. With 600 new silos in Potosi, at least 36,480 additional kilos of wheat can be preserved each year. Put another way: 500 to 600 more families will achieve food security. In addition, the grain will be cleaner and healthier, and more can be sold at the market.

"It is amazing to see the immense impact that simple technologies can have on the daily life of the farmers," says Mr Peric. "We can already see development in the communities where a lot of the families have individual silos for their grains. There the children tend to get less sick, and nutrition is improving."

In Calala there is only the one group silo, which can hold about 250 kilos. The women dream of getting individual silos and possibly a threshing machine, which will save them from the very hard work of threshing the grain manually.

It is time for Mr Yeric to leave, but first, he is asked to bless the new mill and the silo. Ms Llanos de Ruiz hands him a large jar of chicha. He takes a big sip and then pours some of it over the mill and the silos. The women bless him and his car and he prepares to leave -- heading for the next village.

24 April 2001

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