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Indirect Enhancements: Village Grain Mills & Domestic Water Supply


One of the central themes of this website it the need to enhance the operational capacity of the smallholder farmers so they could better manage their crops and livestock to increase their potential yields. The major thrust was to promote access to mechanization in the form of director ownership of power tillers for rice farmers or access to contract tractors for upland farmers. However, there were a couple pages devoted to more indirect means of enhancing the operating environment of smallholder communities, both of which involved reducing the domestic drudgery for women. The two suggestions were maize and rice mills that have virtually eliminated the extensive time and effort women spend pounding grain, except for specialty crops, and improved domestic water supply. These were both put forth as having a potential agronomic impact with the idea they need to be looked at more closely.

Regarding village grain mills some of the things they may need to be carefully looked at include:


  1. Just how much time women were spending in pounding grain before grain mills became available.
  2. Once available how much did this reduce the time needed for domestic chores
  3. What did they do with their free time:
    1. Just remain around the house
    2. Work longer in their field assisting their spouses
    3. Work longer in the field on independent crop or animal husbandry
    4. Become involved in other income generating activities.
  4. What was in economic impact of these additional activities made possible by the village grain mills?
  5. How about the ownership of the mills?
    1. Most were done privately so they were individual owned and operated like the one shown in the photo,  perhaps by individual giving up farming to become service providers as part of the family enterprise system.
    2. A few were developed by NGOs as income generating activities for women groups.
    3. Which of these business model were more effective and sustainable in providing this service? I would venture the individual owner/operator were far more effective, with the women group were quickly being abandoned, as appears to be the case for gari making in Nigeria.

One problem with this study is that it may be too late to fully evaluate. This is because the availability of grain mills may now be fait accompli or nearly so. Thus there may no longer be a base line reference for pounding grain from which to start a study. Perhaps it can still be done through interviews with some of the elderly women in the community. It seems the traditional women pounding grain in Africa has gone the same way the water buffalo plowing rice fields in Asia. Sorry I will not miss either. I do find it interesting that the initial effort at mechanization for smallholder communities in Africa addressed the drudgery of domestic chores.

Regarding the improvement in domestic water supplyJackWaterOpt

This is mostly done by NGO by drilling fairly deep wells with pumps, either suction if shallow enough (> 10 meters) or lift if < 10 meters. It can also be done with gravity flow from stream or spring to faucets distributed through the village. Most of these donor assisted domestic water improvement were undertaken for health reason reducing many sanitation diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery and even cholera. This could easily result in lower infant mortality, as well less lose time for adults suffering from occasional sanitary diseases. Thus there are several means by which improved domestic water supply could have an agronomic impact on crop and animal husbandry, higher yields or better quality of quality sensitive crops like fresh vegetables. Thus the need to evaluate the agro/economic impact of improving domestic water supply along with the health impact.

The questions that come to mind:

  1. Direct impact:
    1. Reduced time spend on getting water, mostly for women,
    2. How they utilize this saved time in terms of:
      1. Assisting their spouse with general farm work
      2. Doing independent farm work
      3. Doing other income generation activities
      4. Resting and conserving energy for more diligent effort the next day
  2. Indirect impact:
    1. Any noticeable reduction in childhood mortality.
    2. Reduce down time by family members suffering from sanitation diseases.

It might be noted that in a recent E-discussion on wage income for smallholders someone mentioned that improving water supply had reduced childhood mortality resulting in additional pressure on food security which, without make further operational adjustment, resulted in a substantial increase in out-migration from the farming community to urban areas seeking employment. This is an interesting and totally unexpected consequence of improving water supply.

19 June  2015

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