|Utilization and Construction of Pit Silos (Peace Corps, 1976, 41 p.)|
A joint project between the Livestock Veterinary Service and the Peace Corps, Republic of Mali
JAMES CHANEL LAJOIE
Pit Silo Project, 1974-1976
Mali, West Africa
In July of 1974, under the combined efforts of "Le Service de l'Elevage" (Livestock Veterinary Service) and the Peace Corps, a silage program was initiated in Mali. The purpose of this program is to establish the use of pit silos as a means of feeding labor oxen and dairy cows during the rainless months from November to May when there is no grass for the livestock to graze on.
Under the guidance and advise of the Veterinary Service, zones were selected throughout the country where concentrated extension efforts would be carried on by each silage team. Each team consisted of one Peace Corps Volunteer and one or two Malian counterparts. The teams were directly under the supervision of the heads of the veterinary sectors who were responsible for the effectiveness and outcome of all work carried on in their zones. Each team had as a means of mobility, a Land Rover and two mobylettes. There was also a coordinating team consisting of a Malian National Coordinator and a Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator, which was responsible for the general supervision of the project.
The goal of each team was to make contact with the various villages throughout their zones and introduce the pit silo technique through demonstration pits, financed with project funds. The thought behind providing these financed demonstration pits was to show the villagers positive proof of the technique with minimum risk on their part, thereby arriving at a faster extension of the technique. A common problem in extension work is getting the villagers to change traditional methods that barely work and to accept methods that are more effective. In the minds of the villagers, they know that what they've been practicing has gotten them by, if only barely, and that the possibility of trying something new can result in total failure, which is a risk factor most cannot afford to take.
The actual silage technique used in this program consisting of having the villager dig a circular pit 3 meters in diameter by 2 meters in depth and fill it with natural grasses. The grasses are chopped into small pieces with locally available machetes, and packed tightly by stamping each layer.
Once the pit is filled a superficial layer of uncut grass, hay or millet stocks is added before the silo is covered with dirt. The placement of the pits varied within each zone due to differences in topography and vegetation The intention was to place "the pits reasonably close to where the cattle would be watering during the dry months and where there would be some available shade. This was not always possible. The pits were expected to provide 8-9 tons of silage for 3-4 head of cattle (15 kilos per head per day) for 150 days. The villagers used indigenous materials to dig, carry, and chop the grasses, and to fill the pits.
APPROACH AND EXECUTION
From the initial contacts made by each team they had an overall impression that the villagers were very enthusiastic and willing to contribute to the work effort involved in silage making. Some of the zones had previous exposure to the idea of silage through an extension effort made ten years earlier. This exposure was limited to literature covering the execution of silage techniques and was not followed up by having on the spot technicians helping control the few error factors which can cause silage to spoil. Needless to say, a lot of pits were dug but were unsuccessful.
The initial contact made by most teams was done at village meetings where all the local cattle raisers were summoned. The silage technique and the beneficial results it could provide, i.e. healthier oxen at the onset of cultivation time, higher milk yield etc. was explained to them in their local language by the Malian counterpart. To facilitate the summoning of villagers for these meetings, teams discovered that working through local administration provided effective results. Telegrams or administrative short wave radios were used to announce the arrival and intentions of the silage teams. During these meetings, with the advice of the village chief and the local veterinary agent, one or more pilot cattlemen were selected to supervise and control the usage and distribution of the demonstration pit silo. Also, names of volunteers who wanted to participate immediately without waiting to see results, were also taken. All this took place one to two months before the actual digging started.
After the initial contact stage, the teams went into the execution stage the actual digging the pits. Working calendars were set up and tentative dates were sent to villages informing them as to when the silage technicians would be arriving.
It was at this point that most teams started encountering their first problem - that of actually getting the holes dug, filled and closed in a minimum period of time. The important thing to remember here is that for ideal silage, grasses should be cut at the flowering stage. In Mali, at tile moment of flowering it is still raining, so getting the pits filled and covered in a minimum period of time is very crucial. Many teams found that unfortunately, the filling period often coincided with other village cultivating activities such as harvesting their grain crops. As a result this cut down the availability of people who could work on the completion of pits. The mobility and persistence on the part of each team played a major role at this moment in determining the quality of silage and the degree of successful acceptance of the technique on the part of the villagers.
During the filling of the pits, it was difficult in many cases to get the people to effectively and sufficiently pack the grasses. The first few efforts were always fun and different, but as the need increased to keep the grasses packed tighter, the willingness on the part of the workers decreased. Some teams resorted to using the local tom-tom players in helping to establish a rhythmic dancing atmosphere, other used tape cassetes with lively music. One team used a 200 liter barrel full of water, which they rolled around the pit as workers chopped grasses into the hole. This proved to be quite effective although it was somewhat tedious for those having to push the barrel.
Once all the pits were filled in each zone, the teams surveyed the decension of the grasses in each pit and instructed the pilot villagers to add more dirt This was initially done to keep any possible air from entering into the silage and causing spoilage. Actually in almost all cases, we found that the amount of dirt originally put on the pits at the time of covering was enough to safety protect the silage. Also the follow-up surveillance helped in controlling possible rain run-off into the pits. Some teams automatically, at the time of closing a pit, dug small drainage run-off ditches around each pit. It was small factors of this nature that often times made the determining difference in whether a villager would be rewarded for his effort by finding good silage at opening time or finding black rooting grasses and becoming very discouraged with the whole thing.
From the first years efforts put out by seven silage teams, 6 located in Soudanian zones and one located in a Sahelian zone, 180 pits were dug and filled. Upon the opening of these pits at the onset of the dry season, 85% gave an excellent digestable silage, feeding 750-800 labor oxen and dairy cows .
A very consistent finding among almost all tile teams at the time of opening, was that the silage had decended alot more than expected. Pits decended anywhere from 75 cm to 125 cm. It was realized at this time that these pits could not possibly contain 9 tons of silage. As was mentioned above, the effectiveness of packing the grasses is very important and this becomes quite evident at the time of opening. Taking all of this into consideration the pits still provided 2½-3 months of feed which in previous years had not existed.
USAGE AND DISTRIBUTION PROBLEMS
When pits were opened, often times confusion set in concerning the distribution and usage of the silage. In the cases when demonstration pits were done collectively, whereby villagers agreed to provide 3-5 head of cattle belonging to different owners, the choosing process left many feeling cheated out of their share of the silage. Upon seeing that green, edible feed was actually being produced from the pits, villagers that had participated in the work felt they should be able to feed their cattle. The idea of the pit being there for demonstration purposed was quickly forgotten and many pits were emptied in 2-4 week periods.
The simple fact that villagers were so anxious to use the silage is a strong enough indication of the potential role the silage technique can plays Once again the importance of technical surveillance and contact is a key factor in getting the villagers to realize what can be achieved through their own efforts.
Another situation encountered by the teams was that villagers misunderstood the value of having green fresh fodder as opposed to dry straw, during a time of year when very little feed is to be found. The teams found that villagers were taking silage out of the pits and leaving it out to dry before actually feeding it to their cattle. One factor contributing to this thought pattern was the different smell of silage. Villagers found that upon initial contact with silage, cattle often refused to eat it. Some pits were abandoned at this point until the teams come around and convinced the villagers that cattle would accept the different smelling feed if straw was first mixed with the silage and then gradually eliminate-d from the mixture. This proved to be a very effective technique in getting cattle to accept silage. In most cases the cattle accepted silage immediately upon presentation.
Between the end of the first silage season and the onset of the second season, a conference was held in the national capital. The original seven teams were present along with eight newly formed teams. Most of the new teams had already spent time in their new zones making initial contact with local villagers and arranging a work calendar for the upcoming season.
During the two day conference, old teams presented and discussed their extension approaches and the various problems which they encountered during the first season. This enabled the newly formed teams to realize and anticipate the potential problems they'd have to deal with in their extension work. One of the problems consistently brought out at the conference was how the introduction of money for the financing of pit silos often left the villagers confused. In their minds, having the availability of technical assistance was enough justification to at least try the technique. They couldn't understand why the pits were being paid for if they were the ones who were to gain by having feed for their cattle.
The general consensus was that it was much better to approach the extension of silage making from a non-monetary standpoint. Villagers realizing the possible benefits of silage wouldn't expect to be aided financially. With this approach it still left the teams with the option, if they encountered too much difficulty, of financing a demonstration pit.
The conference was also very effective, on a coordinating level, in explaining many misunderstood administrative necessities which existed during the first years work. Most importantly, the conference served as a unification of our ideas and efforts.
During the second year of silage making, a variety of extension approaches were tried and used by the different teams. Some of the first year teams who had covered large zones found that it cut down their effectiveness and therefore used a more concentrated approach of contact. They were able to provide a more intensive program of technical assistance. Other teams chose to dig pits only in the villages that were administrative centers and invited village chiefs and leading cattlemen from surrounding villages to attend the demonstration of silage making. Of those teams who financed demonstration pits, some chose to pay the pilot villagers half the money at the time of closing the pits and the other half at the time of opening.
In many zones there were already local agents representing such agricultural operations in rice, cotton and peanut productions. These agents are distributed in different villages helping villagers improve their crop production. In these zones, almost all preparation of fields for cultivation is done through animal traction. Silage teams started working directly with these agents and incorporated the teaching of silage making into their already existing implementation programs. By using villagers that were contracted by these operations, the teaching and learning of new work methods was easily facilitated. Silage falls naturally into their needed feeding program because the villagers are striving for higher crop production. They easily realize that stronger oxen can plough more acreage in a shorter period of time. Most operations already teach their participants how to stock hay, so for them to learn silage making complimented their overall effort.
During the second year of silage making many first year participants were disappointed to find their pits had been completely filled with water during the rainy season and erosion had worn away the walls. Before being able to refill these pits, they had to bail out all the water and reshape the walls, which made a much larger hole them the previous year. Also, the dirt needed to cover the pit after filling had been washed away. This extra work discouraged the villagers to the point where many didn't want to refill their pits the second year. Those who did, found that refilling the newly reshaped pits took longer than the previous year because of the enlarged sizes. Some preferred digging new pits rather than using the old ones.
It was during this period that teams started realizing the importance of modifying the actual pit digging and construction design. The most widely accepted solution was to diminish the depth of the pits and construct walls, 5075 cm high, out of mud bricks. At the same time, the importance of constructing overhead hangars was reemphasized, not only for the use of stockpilling millet stocks, peanut vines and hay, but for helping to minimize the amount of rain water entering the pit.
At the end of the second year of the program, 15 teams, 5 of which were located in Sahelian zones, had dug and filled 525 pit silos. Of this total, almost all pits have given fresh green silage. The villagers who have fed their cows and cattle silage over the dry months have noticed considerable change in their animals weight and strength as compared to animals who didn't have silage to eat. Milk cows have continued giving milk during this period, where previously they had given none.
Silage fed oxen are able to plough in one day what it took three days to do before being fed silage. Before silage was introduced, these same animals couldn't make it through a full day's work.
Reports have been received of cattlemen who have bought weak and undernourished oxen during the dry months for next to nothing, used silage, and produced three months later, animals strong enough to do full days work ploughing fields.
The role of the extension agents is one of perserverence, persistance and many hours of patience without ever really knowing how much headway is actually being made. To change the hard and set ways of very traditionally minded people, when environmental changes no longer support methods they've learned to depend on throughout the years, this is the backbreaking work of extension work.
In our particular situation, that of trying to teach villagers a feed preservation method which can be applied with locally available tools, the continuance of such an effort lies in the ability of one villager being able to pass on to his neighbor what he has learned through practical application, better known as "The Snowball Effect". It is here that we find the true depth and penetration of an effective extension program.
Silage making in Mali is just barely taking shape in the minds of those who have participated and for those who have seen the results. It's a long way from being well accepted and widely used but it is off to a good solid start.
One of the most vital factors in the success or failure of a program, besides having independent financial funding, is properly selecting the service with which the project will be working. The major crippling clement of almost all the silage teams, and that which caused discouragement, disagreement and retardation of work progress, was the fact that the service which the project was working through, had very little support facilities of their own. They were lacking in budgetary funds to support the functioning and maintenance of their own vehicules and equipment. Silage teams often found themselves not only having to regulate their own needs but having also to support the needs of entire sectors of the service. The constant unnecessary drain posed by this situation caused many interpersonnel problems among team members and supervisory personnel which could not always be regulated in time by the coordinating team. Needless to say, this cut down the effectiveness of the work accomplished.
Now, after two years of trial, error, and improvement on our extension work techniques, there can be seen developing, easier avenues of approach and penetration. The hit and miss method of going from village to village in each zone and hoping to convince the people of the validity of our silage making technique, often left a large gap in communication and results, considering the amount of time and effort involved.
The avenues I'm referring to all load to the already established and organized operations throughout the country. These operation, i.e. cotton, peanut and rice, have their own cadre of agents placed throughout their production zones, helping cultivators learn new farming techniques which aids in developing higher crop production. These agents have already broken through the mental barrier villagers have of accepting new methods and ideas. These farmers are using work implementation programs which the operations have outlined for them, and they are seeing positive results.
As mentioned earlier, some silage teams have worked with operation agents in their zones and have found an uncomparable difference in the ease of incorporating silage making into existing programs as opposed to dealing with independent villagers. Silage teams using this level of contact could work directly with agents in each zone, showing them how silage is produced and then letting the agents themselves assist their program participating villagers. Once the agents understand the process well enough, they could incorporate silage into the yearly work program. Using this approach, silage foams would take on more of a supervisory role, working in and among different operations and their immediate personnel.
What this would do in effect, is allow the silage team the freedom of not having to be attached to any one service. Peace Corps Volunteers could still have counterparts from each operation assigned to work directly with the silage effort, but this does not mean that the Volunteer would be attached to that particular operation.
An important prerequisite in establishing a sound extension program is foreseeing the administrative needs and providing enough personnel to carry on the functions. The coordination team should not be burdened and taken away from their primary role as for most contact with field teams by having to occupy 90% of their time straightening out accounting, billing and banking difficulties which could be taken care of by a competent secretary.
Also, before a project is started and people are placed into field positions, all aspects of the necessary money distribution and justification procedures should be well understood by all parties concerned i.e. field teams, funding agency, banking service and coordinating team.
Enough time should be allowed, before the actual starting of a project, to prepare and receive all the necessary equipment needed for a thoroughly effective extension team. Throughout the two years of the silage program the teams were constantly hindered by the lack of equipment i.e. camping beds, gasoline barrels, jerry cans, which could have facilitated their work load.
Lastly, an improvement on the now existing work involved technique Or silage making is necessary. Under the present method, a lot of dirt has to be shifted on and off the pit each year. Much of the dirt is lost during the rainy season and mew dirt has to be carried in. This increased the work load and discouraged the villagers. A possible solution would be to fill sacks with dirt and stack them on the silage. The same dirt could be reused on a yearly basis. Also, the silo itself has to be built on a more permanent designs, i.e. pit with 50-75 cm wall around it and overhead straw roof or hangar. The present design is not feasible on a yearly bases.
Once again, the need to eliminate these already forseen problems emphasizes the immature stage of this possibly strong and penetrative technical program. It's only when you start seeing problems and their possible solution, that programs arrive at their sought for goals.
James C. Lajoie
6427 Thornhill Drive
Oakland, California 94611
Tel. (415) 339-1848
Since 1961 when the Peace Corps was created, more than 80,000 U.S. citizens have served as Volunteers in developing countries, living and working among the people of the Third World as colleagues and co-workers, Today 6000 PCVs are involved in programs designed to help strengthen local capacity to address such fundamental concerns as food production, water supply, energy development, nutrition and health education and reforestation.
Loret Miller Ruppe, Director
Edward Curran, Deputy Director Designate
Richard B. Abell, Director, Office of Program Development
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