Traditional farm/village storage methods

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Temporary Storage Methods

Such methods are quite often associated with the drying of the crop, and are primarily intended to serve this purpose. They assume the function of storage only if the grain is kept in place beyond the drying period.

(i) Aerial Storage (Ref: FAO,1987, fig.6(a))

Maize cobs, sorghum or millet panicles are sometimes tied in bundles, which are then suspended from tree branches, posts, or tight lines, on or inside the house (Figure 6.1). This precarious method of storage is not suitable for very small or very large quantities and does not provide protection against the weather (if outside), insects, rodents, or thieves.

(ii) Storage on the ground, or on drying floors

This method can only be provisional since the grain is exposed to all pests, including domestic animals, and the weather. Usually it is resorted to only if the producer is compelled to attend to some other task, or lacks means for transporting the grain to the homestead.

(iii) Open Timber Platforms

A platform consists essentially of a number of relatively straight poles laid horizontally on a series of upright posts. If the platform is constructed inside a building, it may be raised just 35-40 cm above ground level to facilitate cleaning and inspection. Platforms in the open may be raised at least 1 metre above ground level. They are usually rectangular in shape, but circular or polygonal platforms are common in some countries.

Grain is stored on platforms in heaps, in woven baskets or in bags. In humid countries fires may be lit under elevated platforms, to dry the produce and deter insects or other pests.

Instead of being horizontal and flat, the platform may be conical in shape, the point at the bottom. Up to 3 metres in diameter, such platforms facilitate drying because of their funnel shape: at the top they consist of a frame of horizontal poles which is square, circular or polygonal in shape, against which the timbers which form the cone rest; these timbers meet at the bottom on a wide central supporting post (Figure 6.2).

Platforms with roofs (but no walls), of whatever shape or form, may be regarded as transitional types between temporary and long-term stores. In southern Benin, Togo and Ghana, for example, maize cobs in their sheaths are laid in layers on circular platforms with their tips pointing inwards. The platforms are usually between 2 and 3 metres in diameter, but some may be more than 6 metres wide, with a maximum height of 2.5 metres at the centre and 1.5 metres at the periphery. In Ghana such a granary is called an "ewe" barn (Figure 6.3).


Long-term Storage Methods

(i) Storage baskets (cribs) made exclusively of plant materials

In humid countries, where grain cannot be dried adequately prior to storage and needs to be kept well ventilated during the storage period, traditional granaries (cribs) are usually constructed entirely out of locally available plant materials: timber, reeds, bamboo, etc. (Figure 6.4.). Under prevailing climatic conditions most plant material rot fairly quickly, and most cribs have to be replaced every two or three years - although bamboo structures may last up to 15 years, with careful maintenance.

Basically similar to the outdoor type of platform described above, in all its variations, the traditional crib differs in always having a roof and wall(s). It may even be elevated at least one metre above ground level, with a fire maintained underneath to assist drying of the contents and, allegedly, to reduce insect infestation. However, such cribs (especially the larger ones) are more commonly raised only 40 to 50 cm above ground level.

Access to the interior of a crib is gained usually over the wall. This may involve raising the roof, but some cribs have a gap between the top of the wall and the roof to facilitate entry. Relatively few cribs have sealable gaps in the wall or floor for the removal of grain.

(ii) Calabashes, gourds, earthenware pots

These small capacity containers are most commonly used for storing seed and pulse grains, such as cowpeas. Having a small opening, they can be made hermetic, by sealing the walls inside and out with liquid clay and closing the mouth with stiff clay, cow dung, or a wooden (cork?) bung reinforced with cloth.

If the grain is dry (less than 12% moisture content) there there is usually no problem with this kind of storage.

(iii) Jars

These are large clay receptacles whose shape and capacity vary from place to place. The upper part is narrow and is closed with a flat stone or a clay lid: which is sealed in position with clay or other suitable material. Generally kept in dwellings, they serve equally for storing seeds and legumes. So that they may remain in good servicable condition, they should not be exposed to the sun and should not be either porous or cracked.

(iv) Solid wall bins

Such grain stores are usually associated with dry climatic conditions, under which it is possible to reduce the moisture content of the harvested grain to a satisfactory level simply by sun-drying it. Solid wall bins are therefore traditional in the Sahel region of Africa, and in southern African countries bordering on the Kalahari desert.

The base of a solid wall bin may be made of timber (an increasingly scarce resource), earth or stone. Earth is not recommended because it permits termites and rodents to enter. The better base is made of stone.

Mud or clay silos are usually round or cylindrical in shape, depending on the materials used (Figure 6.5). Rectangular-shaped bins of this type are less common, because the uneven pressure of the grain inside causes cracking - especially at the corners. Clay, which is the basic material, varies in composition from one place to another. That most commonly used for such construction work is obtained from termitaries, because the termites add a secretion which gives it better plasticity. To give it added strength, certain straw materials such as rice straw may be mixed with it; while, in some countries, néré juice is added to make it almost as durable as concrete. The diversity of materials used explains why the capacities of such silos can vary from 150 kg to 10 tonnes.

In West Africa, when only clay is used, the walls are 15 to 20 cm thick: the shape is then more or less cylindrical and the construction is similar to the walls of a house. However, when the clay is strengthened as described above, the bin is usually rounder in shape and resembles a jar; with walls only 2.5 to 5 cm thick, but very strong, so that it is possible to climb on top to enter the silo for regular withdrawal of grain. The interior is often compartmented by vertical internal walls, joining at the centre on a central column which serves to support the foot when one enters the silo. The walls are rendered as smooth as possible, inside and out in such a way as not to offer refuge for insects and their larvae; fissures are sealed with liquid clay before each loading. Similarly, the angles formed by the internal partition walls and external wall are rounded for the same reasons.

In southern Africa, where the bins are commonly rectangular in plan, internal compartments are usually covered with mud-plastered timber ceilings and are accessed via sealable 'windows'. These face a short corridor leading to the exit, which may be fitted with a standard lockable door.

The roof is usually made of thatched grass, with a generous overhang to protect the mud wall(s) from erosion. Where a side door or a detachable 'cap' is not provided, the roof has to be lifted for access to the bin. Such silos can serve for 30 or even 50 years.

(v) Underground Storage

Practised in India, Turkey, sahelian countries and southern Africa, this method of storage is used in dry regions where the water table does not endanger the contents. Conceived for long term storage, pits vary in capacity (from a few hundred kilogrammes to 200 tonnes). Their traditional form varies from region to region: they are usually cylindrical, spherical or amphoric in shape, but other types are known (Gilman and Boxall, 1974). The entrance to the pit may be closed either by heaping earth or sand onto a timber cover, or by a stone sealed with mud (Figure 6.6. Vertical section of a Cyprus village underground grain store.).

The advantages of this method of storage are:

The disadvantages are:

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