Sunday, March 19, 2017

Traditional granaries for storage of rice - West Bengal

When you travel in rural Bengal, you will come across traditional rice granaries. After the harvest, rice is stored in these structures.

The granaries are of different sizes, but typically they stand between 10-20 feet tall from base to roof. They are built on raised platforms; a sensible way to protect them from flooding during the rain.

There are multiple rice crops during the year. It is the local practice to plant different varieties of rice. So a prosperous household with large holdings may have multiple granaries, or may store only 1 crop in the granary and the others in jute or synthetic gunny bags. I photographed these granaries in a Santhal village. These are typically small holdings, with not much surplus available for sale in the markets. The granaries are in the inner-courtyards, where the cooking is also done. You can see in the photo below, the grinding stone and the big wok.

These granaries are made with paddy straw, which is the by-product of the rice growing process. Once the rice is harvested and threshed, there is plenty of paddy available. Paddy straw is twisted into rope, and then used to build the walls of the granary. Rope making is traditionally the job of women, although these days there are machines to make these ropes.

Here is a closer look at the rope weave:

The inner walls of the structure are treated with clay and cowdung; this keeps away insects. The structure is then lined inside with more paddy.

The thatched roof is also made of paddy straw, which is available in plenty after the harvest. Many layers are used, in order to prevent rainwater from entering the structure. Those who can afford it also buy plastic tarpaulins as cover. The family invests money every couple of years in repairing, plastering and maintaining the granary.

After the harvest, the rice is sun-dried for preservation; and then it is put into the granary. Usually neem leaves are mixed along with the rice, to keep insects away. This photo below shows the open area used by one family for sun-drying their crop. Their paddy has also been neatly stacked away, for feeding cattle.
Sun-drying is a very important part of the preservation and storage process
These traditional methods of storage have stood the test of time and continue to be used even in modern era. We have much to gain from understanding and appreciating these sustainable methods of harvest storage. Of course, in spite of the precautions taken, the rice is under threat from infestation as well as rodents. Farmers monitor the stored grains; they remove insects and destroy infested grain from time to time.