Artisan Welding His Way to Success

Originally published on February 18, 2016.

Tulaya demonstrates how the metal silo he fabricated opens to provide access to stored contents.
“Kalabana Walalya” is the message printed on the back of Tulaya Mupeta’s overalls. It means “be versatile and you will reap the rewards” in Bemba - a major Bantu language spoken primarily in Northeastern Zambia.

Tulaya Mupeta spends his days shuttling between a hot furnace and a work bench at his small workshop at a busy market in Choma Town, in Zambia’s Southern Province. As a blacksmith, his livelihood depends on churning out the shiny metal items displayed neatly outside his workshop.

When Tulaya heard about a new metal product that could help him diversify his merchandise, he jumped at the chance to join lead farmers and artisans on a learning tour in Chipata District, almost 600kms (370 miles) away in Zambia’s Eastern Province. “A blacksmith’s tools are often expensive so when I heard that there was a new product that could assure me of a good return on investment, I did not hesitate at all,” says Tulaya.

Organized by the Sustainable Health and Agriculture for Resilient Populations (SHARP) project, the learning tour was one of the project’s first activities towards promoting effective grain storage as a way of improving food security. SHARP is a 23-month project that aims to increase food security, health and disaster-risk reduction in Zambia’s Choma and Kazungula Districts. Implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project is addressing household food security, improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in communities, and strengthening household resilience to disasters.

As a preliminary step towards introducing metal storage silos among the target communities, the SHARP team embarked on a rigorous process to identify artisans who could learn to fabricate the metal silos, and lead farmers who could serve as early adopters of the technology. Tulaya was among a total of 15 people - 10 lead farmers and five artisans - who participated in the learning tour to the Eastern Province.

Metal silos are a major improvement from traditional grain storage facilities which leave the contents vulnerable to pests, rodents, theft, and damage from moisture. These silos are neat and portable, and can store grain for many years without damage, or the use of pesticides or insecticides. By providing safe and hygienic storage for surplus produce, metal silos not only guarantee food security for these households, but also allow farmers flexibility on when to sell their grain, thereby enabling them to fetch better prices in the market.

Tulaya works on the construction of a silo
Of the original 10 artisans, Tulaya was among eight whose work was deemed of superior quality. During the workshop, Tulaya and his peers learned how to design the metal silos, develop production specifications, and cost, price and market the products. Tulaya became one of six initial artisans who sailed through the next vetting stage, when he successfully built three, well-crafted sample silos to market the new storage facility to farmers.

The SHARP project is promoting the fabrication and use of 500 kg silo at the cost of 300 Zambian Kwacha (approx. $40) each. As is common in rural Zambia, payment in the form of farm products such as maize and small ruminants, especially goats, is accepted. The silos are being fabricated on order and with pre-payments from farmers. So far, Tulaya has orders for 44 silos, at least six of which have already been fully paid for.

Previously, Tulaya’s income could barely sustain his family. With a wife and four children – the eldest of whom is scheduled to go to college soon, household expenses are high. “I used to make roughly 10 to 15 Kwacha ($1-$2) per day before I diversified into silo-making. Now, I make at least twice that,” Tulaya explains.

However, Tulaya’s success under the SHARP project goes beyond the invaluable skills and knowledge gained, and improved income. He received a significant boost to his portfolio when his meticulous work caught the eye of Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) officials. The officials subsequently selected him and another artisan from the initial group to work as master trainers for various players in the value chain. At the Ministry’s invitation, he has since trained 12 agricultural officers and eight locals on the fabrication and use of the metal silos.

Tulaya’s motto, “Kalabana Walalya” is being passed along the country as he trains artisans from other provinces on crafting, pricing and marketing the silos.

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