In Ghana, agriculture accounts for approximately 50% of the labour force. The majority of workers are smallholder farmers, and about 90% of farms in Ghana are less than two hectares in size. Rural families depend on their harvests to both feed themselves and to sell in the market to make an income. However, farmers often lack the infrastructure and the skills to properly store their harvest to ensure that they can rely upon it during the lean season. Many Ghanaian farmers store their harvests in woven baskets that do not last and are susceptible to insects and rodents. Others construct small storage structures out of wood, but wood is increasingly becoming depleted because it is also used for cooking fires. As a result of this lack of proper storage infrastructure, post-harvest losses can range between 10% and 40%. This represents a huge loss of income and food security for the average farmer in Ghana.
An American NGO called Opportunities Industrialization Center International (OICI) is taking a centuries-old technique and putting a new twist on it to help Ghanaian farmers reduce post-harvest losses. The technique of building mud silos out of locally-available materials is already known in some parts of northern Ghana and was first introduced 300 years ago by traders from Burkina Faso. For less than $25, the silos can be constructed out of materials such as dried grass and mud, and have several compartments that hold different crops. They have the capacity to store approximately 1.5 tons of grain. Mud silos can last up to 50 years, and when crops are properly treated and dried before storage, the silos can reduce losses to less than 1%.
Mud silos have not been widely adopted in Ghana before, in part because many people are hesitant to adopt the traditional practices of foreign tribes. However, OICI has coupled the construction of mud silos with an innovative education program and a participatory approach. OICI has a team of community facilitators who live and work in the community to improve the skills of local farmers and to promote changes in behaviour and attitude. OICI also tailors their training to each region they work in, allowing the community to provide input on local growing conditions and materials that are available to them. The community members are given opportunity to discuss and decide the best design, materials, and method of construction for the mud silos. OICI arranges for a master builder to train local artisans in how to construct the silos. To date, 457 men and women have been trained as craftsmen in mud silo construction, and OICI has helped Ghanaian farmers to construct more than 5,700 silos.
OICI’s project is not just about providing infrastructure, but also about providing a skill that is sustainable and allows local farmers to take ownership of their own agricultural development. OICI recognizes the importance of obtaining acceptance in communities and ensuring that training is aligned with the realities and the resources of the community in order to be sustainable. Results show that post-harvest loss has decreased significantly in the communities they work in. Good storage has preserved the harvest and allowed farmers to hold on to their crops until market prices are favourable. This means that farmers are more readily able to feed themselves and their families, and they can also make more income when selling their crops. A simple, ancient technique coupled with a modern, participatory approach has resulted in enormous agricultural improvements for farmers.