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Grain storage containers to feed the world

Post-harvest losses of food can be as high as 40%
  [vote for,

Global food crisis. Not nice.

One of the very many factors at play is the lack of agricultural knowledge, technology and infrastructures in developing countries.

Of these, post-harvest losses due to poor infrastructures are a key sub-factor.

When small farmers in these countries have harvested their products, as much as 40% can get lost before the products reach the consumer.

This is due to bad storage devices, that do not deal with good humidity control, that do not repel microbial infestation, insects, rodents and birds.

Warehouses and storage facilities are often based either on traditional architecture (the wood + clay + straw grain silo) or on poorly run buildings that are not protected against predators.

The idea is simple (see illustration):

-make a highly efficient and affordable storage facility out of second-hand shipping containers

-there are an estimated 17 million unused shipping containers today, and the number keeps growing; they're available for $1000 to $3000. (Nice material to make a house from, too.)

-the shipping container is equipped with a solar panel on top of it, which regulates temperature and moisture levels

-aeration is provided by simple tubes that are put into the container, connected to a vent that is closed off by strong metal nets and shielded against rain.

-a simple weighing device measures the amount of grains each farmer puts into the container; (optionally, in the higher-tech version the farmer receives an electronic card, which registers his activity and which allows him to open and close the container)

-the container is modified in a simple way: the doors on both sides are cut horizontally in two parts, so that when you open the small upper part, the lowest part prevents grains from falling out of the container; the opening is large enough for a person to enter the container.

The process of bringing the container to farmers:

-containers are handy because they are cheap, made out of steel, last a very long time, and already play a part in internationally standardized logistics

-depending on the farming community's output, and the availability of infrastructures, trucks can transport the full container to market and return it; or else, if the farmers do the marketing themselves, they can fill and empty the container easily when they have good selling opportunities.

That's it.

I made an illustration.

This concept could perhaps help prevent the huge post-harvest losses incurred by so many poor farmers.

django, Apr 27 2008

Quick illustration of the container http://i3.photobuck...in.jpg?t=1209313259
Really simple idea [django, Apr 27 2008]

UN's World Food Program http://en.wikipedia...orld_Food_Programme
$2.9 Billion USD spent in UN's WFP in 2006. A 40% reduction in long term costs might be very appealing to them. [Zimmy, Apr 30 2008]


       Boffo, if it works.
phoenix, Apr 27 2008

       I am more than slightly intrigued by this idea. On the surface it does seem to have a lot of promise. If you have the time - I'd be interested in finding out:
a) Volume of a shipping container
b) Estimated cost of your solution (solar, modifications/welding, humidity control...)
c) Current lifespan of shipping containers

       One worry I have is that they may become very convenient ways for warlords to hide men in humidity controlled bunkers, complete with half-height steel plate doors and filtered ventilation.   

       The business of transport is another concern. I cannot see many poor communities being able to afford to move a loaded container to market. Of course, removing a portion and shipping in their established mode would reduce this problem.   

       Costs are a final point. $1000 to $3000 is a lot of money for most developing economies. I can only see this working if the cost is met to a significant extent by overseas aid; necessarily diverting funds from other projects.   

       The smart-card idea is nice but overworked. A nice thick padlock with a village elder responsible for weighing in grain and recording in return for a percentage of grain in it is more sensible and will often be more culturally appropriate, given the setting.   

       In general terms it is a diversion from current work with aims at technology transfer and local manufacture; if there was a way in which appropriate storage could be fabricated locally, at least to some degree, this would be preferred by many in a position to channel funds to such a project. Such an action builds the local economy, fosters independence from foreign aid and leads to a more diversified, technically capable and hence resilient community.   

       I suggest that if modifications are all internal with few external fixtures; containers when full could be used as containers and directly transported to port for sale, enabling more cost efficient and faster arrival of the grain on the world market.
vincevincevince, Apr 28 2008

       sortof a good idea, but the unused storage-containers are in areas of the world that *already* have working silos. For the amount of money it would take to ship one to a place that doesn't, I *think* (but am only guessing) you could build something out of local materials. Nice drawing, btw :)
FlyingToaster, Apr 28 2008

       Vince, I'll check things out.   

       But at current market prices for rice and maize, I think it will be easy to break even very quickly.   

       -A standard 40ft container has a volumetric capacity to store 67.7 cubic meters.   

       -The bulk density of rice is 0.72 tons per cubic meter.   

       -So a container can store 48.7 metric tons of rice; take some off, because of the aeration vents; let's say the container stores 45 cubic meters.   

       -Now, let's take a 25% post-harvest lost due to bad storage; the price for a ton of rice is currently over $1000.   

       -So we have: $250 saved for each ton of rice stored in our good container.   

       -Times 45 tons = $11,250.   

       I estimate the cost of a fully equipped container to be around $5000; transportation and installation costs also $5000.   

       So you would break even after filling the container only once...   

       The problem is: who's going to make the investment, even if it makes good economic sense, given that the areas we're dealing with present a rather great investment risk?
django, Apr 28 2008

       [FlyingToaster], good point; but don't forget that many countries in Africa are becoming large net importers of cheap Chinese manufactured goods. So I'm sure you can find containers there that aren't shipped back. Local logistics would definitely present a huge challenge, though.   

       But suppose your scenario works out, then it would indeed be crucial to couple this container concept to another concept: e.g. import a container full of basic farm materials and fertilizers, which often lack amongst these farming communities.   

       But then, as you say, we would be blending programs.   

       Using local materials might be the wiser option, even though I doubt whether they are as robust and durable as a steel container.
django, Apr 28 2008

       [django] thing is, (I assume that) those containers are either being used for something (even awaiting an overage) or aren't in good enough shape to be used, in which case it's probably not a good idea to use them.
FlyingToaster, Apr 28 2008

       I like the idea...it uses surplus products that are destined for energy absorbing recycling as scrap metal; it is innovative...I certainly never even thought of this problem the GSC offers to resolve; and it seems to be of such a simple nature as to be buildable in third world nations that could certainly use any new industry and employment opportunity. I wonder how long an air conditioned, probably insulated container, that also fit's humans will be commandeered by third world soldiers for habitation. And, the complex but obvious third world dictator/ potentate ruse of starving their populations to coerce the cash flow from industrialized, but guilt ridden nations, will probably negate the overall benefit of these wisely considered devices.
Blisterbob, Apr 29 2008

       [21 Quest], that's indeed the flexibility of the system:   

       -if local infrastructures allow trucks to operate, these trucks can pick up the entire container and bring it to market   

       -but if local infrastructures make this impossible, farmers can just bring the products to market themselves, as most are probably doing right now, in developing countries.   

       So the container allows for both options.
django, Apr 30 2008

       Good work [+].
gribbler, Jul 14 2009

       /-the container is modified in a simple way: the doors on both sides are cut horizontally in two parts, so that when you open the small upper part, the lowest part prevents grains from falling out of the container; the opening is large enough for a person to enter the container. /   

       or you could roll the container on it's side. The existing doors will keep grain in. A minor modification the doors might be required, like a counter balance for the top door.
popbottle, Jul 26 2014


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