Machines revolutionize shelling chore for small-scale farmers
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Published on 27 September 2010

Sheller machines have made it easy for small holder farmers to remove maize grain from cobs. Photo: WFP/Victoria Cavanagh

Shelling maize in Zambia traditionally relies on the manual labor of women and children. “Whether they like it or not, each year children are brought to my village to assist the farm during the shelling season,” says Patrick Namasiku, a small scale farmer in Central Province.

Shelling maize in Zambia traditionally relies on the manual labour of women and children. Often, these children do not attend school during the shelling season as they are expected to work.  

“Whether they like it or not, each year children are brought to my village to assist the farm during the shelling period,” says Patrick Namasiku, a smallholder farmer in Central Province. 

The manual method of placing maize cobs on homemade slats and beating them with wooden sticks is not only tedious and physically demanding, it is also slow and inefficient.  For Namasiku, this means that each year his wife, their children, and the other children he hires for the job spend 10 days shelling just 80 bags of maize. During this time, the children either miss school or are too exhausted by the work to be able to study. 

This year, however, the family has spent just three hours shelling their maize thanks to a shelling machine. WFP’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) pilot project has established a fund for the procurement of 38 shelling machines which have been distributed to 10 districts. These machines are given to individual farmers or local farmers’ co-operatives as loans to be repaid over two years through usage fees charged to other farmers.  

Mavis Bukoole, another smallholder in Central Province and mother of four, smiles as she recalls  getting a sheller in July. As well as saving time, the machine means no longer having to pay some USD$100 plus living expenses for the hire of additional labour. 

With her extra time, Mrs. Bukoole now grows and sells vegetables which bring in supplementary income for the family. She also has the time apply fresh mud to the walls of her home and thatch her roof. Neighbouring farmers are happy to pay Mrs. Bukoole for the use of the sheller. 

This money earned goes towards repaying the USD$1000 loan on the machine. After having the sheller for a week, Mrs. Bukoole had not only shelled her 150 bags of maize, but had offered its services to seven nearby smallholders who produced a total of 245 bags. 

The sheller machines are crucial to the P4P plan of helping small-scale farmers achieve sustainable hunger solutions and increased agricultural productivity. Not only do the machines reduce the shelling burden on women and children, they are also more cost-effective and allow families spend more time on other income-generating activities.

WFP Offices
About the author

Victoria Cavanagh

Public Information

Victoria is currently responsible of the Public Information & Resource Mobilization unit in WFP Zambia. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Media and Communications obtained in Australia in 2009, and joined the Zambia Country Office in March 2010 in the Mobile Delivery & Tracking (MDT) unit.