Ms Cecilia Wangui Ndung’u is a happy maize farmer. Of late, her produce has not been going to waste. The notorious storage weevil commonly known as Osama is no longer a threat. The reason – a metal silo invention.
Today being a market day, most people in Mbeere South’s Kamurugio village are not in their homesteads. However, some members of the Kamurugu Producer Marketing Group are at Ms Ndung’u’s home where they attest to the important role the metal silo plays in their lives.
“I have used the silo for many years and have experienced its benefit: grain is not destroyed. I plant my maize, harvest and store it for a long time without it being attacked by Osama,” says Ms Ndung’u.
The group owns three metal silos that can hold 30 bags of cereals each.
Mbeere South is an arid and semi-arid area where some seasons don’t yield much harvest and as such the need to store food is paramount.
Food security is the main reason for Ms Ndung’u’s use of the metal silos but she admits that if she got more containers, she would go in to the business of buying cereals during bumper harvests, store the produce in metal silos and sell later at a profit.
The metal silo preserves grain in that, a candle is lit on the remaining space before sealing the silo, to exhaust any oxygen, without which, no pests can survive.
The silo has a rubber ‘door’ at the bottom to allow removal of grain, this is such that first cereals in are first to come out, according to a farmer, Mr Gibson Wachira who has two metal silos. The rubber door also prevents any air from entering the sealed silo.
The silos provide farmers with a long lasting alternative to using chemicals to preserve their produce.
According to Mr Nephy Kathungu, the deputy head teacher of Kamuthatha Boarding Primary School, using pesticides to preserve food was not long lasting since after a few months the chemicals would lose power and weevils would attack their food.
The advantage of the metal silo is that it can be built locally.
Mr Benjamin Njue, an artisan, crafts the silos. As the containers gain popularity, he has managed to train 30 craftsmen in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan. His work has not come without challenges though.
The main obstacle, the artisan says is the cost and availability of the galvanised iron sheets. Most of the time he has to travel to Nairobi to get them.
Recently, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) organised a visit to Mbeere South for agricultural stakeholders from other parts of Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, to see the metal silo project.
“The Effective Grain Storage for Sustainable Livelihoods of African Farmers Project (EGSP) is aimed at promoting cost-effective grain storage while promoting metal silos and super grain bags which have been proven to work against Osama and weevils,” said Mr Wandera Ojanji, a science writer and editor with CIMMYT.
The project funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in collaboration with the Catholic Diocese of Embu and Homa Bay and World Vision International - Malawi, has had its pilot phase implemented in Kenya and Malawi from 2008 to early this year.
Zambia and Zimbabwe, that have been included in the second phase that runs till 2016 hope to learn from Kenya’s and Malawi’s experience through such exchange visits and model it in their country.