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Savoirs locaux et agriculture durable au Yémen

Frédéric Pelat
Amin Al-Hakimi


Traditional methods of grain storage in Wādī Hadramawt

Saleh Omar Al-Baity
Traduction de Saeed A. Ba-Angood

Texte intégral

1Wādī Hadramawt extends some 900 km from the Ramlat al-Sabactayn sand sea westward to Sayhūt on the coast of the Arabian Sea, cutting a deep course through a high plateau (jawl) in the Hadramawt Governorate, Republic of Yemen. Multiple tributaries feed into the main wādī course: Wādī cAmd, Dawcan, al-cAyn, Bin cAlī, Shuhūh, Tārbah and cIdm from the south, and Wādī Haynan, Sirr, Nacām, Jacaymah, Madr, Thabī, and al-Khawn from the north. Wādī Hadramawt encompasses about two million hectares, of which productive land comprises about 29%; all but 13% of these 580 000 productive hectares is pastureland. The central, more heavily occupied portion of the Wādī lies at 580-700 meters above sea level, where the climate is hot and dry during summers and moderately cool during winters. The mean annual rainfall is about 66.5 mm, with relative humidity in the 45-80% range.

2Farmers in Wādī Hadramawt follow two agricultural systems that differ according to the nature of irrigation. Rain-fed agriculture depends on diversion and management of flood waters for irrigation of fields mainly of sorghum, cowpea, sesame, cucurbits and date palms. Tube well irrigation waters an estimated 8 000 hectares. Crops are produced in two seasons, winter and summer. Some crops, e.g. onion, sorghum, sesame and alfalfa, may grow in both seasons. Winter is the most important agricultural season in Wādī Hadramawt, when occurs cultivation of cereals (e.g. wheat, sorghum), fodder (e.g. alfalfa, lūbiyā), vegetables (e.g. potato, tomato, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, pepper, onion, garlic) and fruits (e.g. citrus, guava, fig).

3The importance of studying the traditional methods of storage comes from the interest of the farmer to store his local seeds and to keep them in good condition for use in the next season. These seeds must have good characteristics to satisfy the need of the consumer. The objective of this paper is to study the traditional storage methods used in Wādī Hadramawt through a field survey conducted in May 2000, the results of which are reported here.

Materials and Methods

4A questionnaire was designed to collect information on traditional methods for grain storage in Wādī Hadramawt. Twenty-five copies of this questionnaire were distributed randomly to farmers in the following areas of the Wādī:

  • seven in al-Qatn, Dawcan, covering the western area;
  • seven in al-Sūm and Sāh covering the eastern area;
  • eleven in Shibām, Say’un, and Tarīm covering the middle portion of the Wādī, where is concentrated most of the agricultural activities.

5We visited these areas and interviewed the farmers, recorded their answers and discussed with them some of the findings. This procedure gave us a clear picture of the traditional methods of grain storage in the Wādī.


6The answers of the questionnaire reveal the following results.

7Tube well irrigation was the more common method of irrigation in the areas covered by the questionnaire. Seventeen of the farmers indicated that they depend on tube well irrigation while six depend on rain fall for irrigation. The western areas are most reliant on rain for irrigation. Crops grown in rain fed farming are sorghum, pigeon pea, cucurbits, sesame, date palm and wheat, particularly when rain came in winter time. Most vegetable and fruit crops depend on tube well irrigation.

8Most farmers store their own seeds from the previous crop, particularly seeds of field crops such as sorghum, local wheat and pigeon pea. Sixty percent of the farmers got stocks of improved varieties of wheat from the Improved Seed Propagation Firm and 90% of the farmers buy on the local market their vegetable seeds, particularly onion, tomato cucumber and pumpkin.

Crops that farmers store

9The questionnaire answers showed the farmers store seeds of the following crops:

  • field crops such as wheat, sorghum, sesame, pigeon pea, alfalfa, al-shubrum, al-habba al-sawdā’;
  • vegetable crops such as onion, radish, carrots, eggplants, okra and cucurbits (local watermelon).

10These crops are the most important for both human and the animal consumption, and provide the most important source of farming income, in the Wādī. Seed storage accordingly plays a vital role in the agriculture of the Wādī.

Seed treatment procedures before storage

11Before storage seeds should pass through the four steps of selection, drying, threshing, and screening.

  • Selection: Selection of good, large, early ripened and pest- and disease-free seeds is done to preserve the good characteristics of the crop.
  • Drying: Seeds then are exposed to sunshine for 2-3 hours, for when seeds are dry they are less infected with pests and diseases. It is found that seeds, particularly wheat and sorghum reserved for storage, have a water content around 10-12%. It is also noticed that seeds with 10% water content are hardier than those with a higher water content
  • Threshing: Farmers in Wādī Hadramawt still thresh crops, particularly vegetables, with sticks in order to separate seeds from pods and ears. Seed loss with this method is high. Shubrum plants are beaten with the date palm stems to isolate seeds from plants. Farmers used tractors or combines for threshing sorghum and wheat.
  • Screening: Seeds were then screened in order to remove soil particles, trash, weed seeds and other broken seeds. Different types of screens are used for each crop.

Traditional methods used for grain storage in Wādī Hadramawt

12The results of the questionnaire revealed seven traditional methods of grain storage used in Wādī Hadramawt.


13A madfan is a large pit, oblong in shape and 2-3 m deep, cut into rock or solid earth; its size depends on the quantity of seed to be stored. The pit has an opening at the top through which the grain is poured. This opening is then closed so that no air or rain can enter, and opened when necessary. This method of storage keeps grains safe and free from the attack of pests and diseases. Wheat and sorghum are generally stored in this way. The main drawback of this method is that termites sometimes attack the contents of madāfin. This method of storage is spread in the eastern part of Wādī Hadramawt (al-Sūm, Sāh, Tarīm and al-Qatn).


14This method is called locally al-tatfīl after the word tafl (or tamī), a type of soil collected from the courses of seasonal floods. This soil is ground to small particles, taken early in the morning and mixed with seed to be stored for long time. The treated grains are then taken to a special place in the corner of the first floor of the house, which is called the store or al-wadīc. This store is built in a square or oblong shape, its walls coated with lime, and all sides closed. When storing seed, first a small quantity of tafl is put down in the bottom compartment (rahaq) of the store, then the seeds mixed with tafl are added, then the seeds are covered by another layer of tafl, pressed well and kept until the next sowing season. In the same store, several compartments may be found and in each compartment different variety of seeds are kept. At the time of sowing, the seed is screened, cleaned well and then sown. This method is famous for storing sorghum and pigeon pea seeds, and appears widely in the western portions of Wādī Hadramawt (Dawcan, Sayf, cAmd) which depend on rains for irrigation. Seed may remain in good condition for about 10 years with this storage method. The method does have several drawbacks, including difficulty of cleaning after storage and possbility of termite infestation. For these reasons, clay containers (al-azyār, al-jihāl or al-kūz) are commonly used instead; recently, plastic barrels are used for the same purpose, giving greater protection against termites.

Mixing seeds with ash

15After being cleaned and screened seed may be mixed with ash and deposited in rahaq containers or clay containers (al-azyār or al-jihāl). Seed mixed with ash may also be stored in sacks. A layer of ash about 10-15 cm thick is usually put above the stored seeds. When seeds are needed for planting, they are cleaned by screening. This method is used for storing wheat and pigeon pea seeds, and also for cucurbit seeds (mostly watermelon and al-faqqūz). For the latter, good melons are chosen, their seeds put in ash; when dried the seed can be cleaned by hand, put in a piece of cloth and hung from the ceiling of the house or hut.

Keeping grains in their ears

16This is one of the oldest storage methods, mentioned in the Holy Qur’an in Surat Yusuf (Peace be upon him): “Whatsoever ye harvest leave it in its ear.” Farmers used to select the largest and best ears, free of pests and diseases. Then they dry the ears under the sun for two to three hours, and place the ears in jute sacs or keep them in a shaded place at home until planting time. Sorghum grains are usually stored in this way. Grain can safely be stored for a period of more than five years by this method, if rodents do not attack them. The drawback of this method is that it requires a large area. This type of storage is typical of eastern parts of Wādī Hadramawt (Tarīm, Sāh, al-Qasam and al-Sūm).

Keeping seeds in closed barrels

17It is one of the traditional methods of storing grains, particularly wheat. After being cleaned and dried, grains are put in steel or plastic barrels. When the barrels are full, they are tightly closed. The barrels are then put in the shade until the planting season. This method of storage is widely used in the western areas of the Wādī, particularly in al-Qatn and Hawrah, where 150 kg of seeds are stored in each barrel.

Keeping seeds in jute or plastic sacks

18Most grains are stored in jute or plastic sacks. Full sacks are put in the shade at home. Farmers sometimes used sacks made of date palm fronds called cabayah. Storage in this way may be successful for more than one year, provided rodents and termites are kept away. This method of storage is widely used in the Wādī for most crop seeds.

The use of dried pumpkins

19The upper part of a large dry pumpkin is cut open and pumpkin’s pulp and seeds are emptied out. Then seeds are stored inside. The filled pumpkin is hung from the ceiling of the house until planting time. Farmers find that this method is good for isolation from air, particularly if the pumpkin is coated with oil or paint on the outside. The method is used for storing some vegetable seeds, and is widely used in most vegetable growing areas of the Wādī.

20From the answers of the farmers in the questionnaire, we can summarize the present methods of grain storage used in Wādī Hadramawt in Table 2.

Problems farmers face during grain storage

21In the questionnaire farmers referred to some problems they face during storage operations, among them birds, rodents store insects and termite attacks. Birds can cause a lot of damage and loss, particularly for grains left in the open air or when stores are not completely closed. Rodents are the main problem for grain stored in jute sacks or in exposed areas. The most important pests and diseases are listed in Table 3.

22The questionnaire answers showed that when farmers discover the first signs of infestation they expose their seeds to the sun, which kills all stages of the store pests. Then they clean the seed again and store it again in clean sacks. Sixteen percent of the questionnaire answers show that some farmers used insecticides such as Gama hexane when they discovered insect infestation. They put insecticide in a powder form either on the top of the sack or below it on the ground.

The use of modern techniques

23The questionnaire showed that all farmers under study do not use modern methods of storage. They used to store their grains in well-ventilated rooms at home.

The preferred traditional methods for grain storage

24The surveyed farmers in the Wādī indicated the following as the preferred methods for storing grains:

  • storing in barrels 8
  • storing with grains in ears 8
  • storing in jute sacs 4
  • mixing seeds with ash 3
  • al-tatfīl 1
  • al-madāfin 1

25For storing wheat and sorghum farmers considered storing in barrels and leaving grains in ears to be the best methods, followed by storing in sacks. The later methods do not require much effort. Seed are always renewed and is not kept for more than one year. Al-madāfin and al-tatfīl were once widely used, but few farmers in the Wādī now retain these methods. Farmers prefer to store cowpeas mixed with ash in barrels or metal containers. Farmers prefer to store vegetable seeds in pumpkins, to treat them with ash and keep them in a piece of cloth hung from the ceiling, or to keep them in metal containers without any treatment.


  • Development of good traditional methods of storing seeds
  • Further scientific studies on some of the traditional methods to see how we can make use of our forefathers’ experience.
  • Introducing modern storage techniques in Wādī Hadramawt.

Table 1. Traditional methods of grain storage and duration of storage Wādī Hadramawt

Method of storage Crop Duration of storage Where method practiced
al-Madāfin wheat more than 5 years Say’un, Sāh, al-Sūm, Tarīm
al-Tatfīl wheat 5-10 years Hawrah, Shibām, Say’un
Mixing with ash wheat 1-3 years al-Qatn, Shibām, Say’un
Barrels wheat 1-2 years al-Qatn, Hawrah
Sacks wheat 6- 18 months all Wādī
al-Tatfīl sorghum 5-10 years Dawcan, cAmd, Seif, Hawrah, Shibām
Mixing with ash sorghum 1-3 years Shibām, Say’un, Tarīm, al-Sūm
Grains in ears sorghum more than 5 years Shibām, Say’un, Tarīm, al-Sūm, Sāh
Barrels sorghum 1-2 years Hawrah, al-Qatn, cAmd
Sacks sorghum 1-2 years all Wādī
al-Tatfīl cowpea 1-3 years Hawrah, Shibām, cAmd
Mixing with ash cowpea more than one year Shibām, Say’un, Tarīm, Sīf
Sacks sesame 1-2 years all Wādī
Sacks alfalfa 1-2 years all Wādī
Mixing with ash cucurbits 1-2 years all Wādī
Pumpkin fruits vegetables 1-3 years Say’un, Tarīm,
Metallic containers vegetables 1-2 years Shibām, Say’un, Tarīm, al-Qatn

Table 2. Methods of grain storage used at present time in Wādī Hadramawt

Method of storage No. of farmers’ answers Percentage (%)
Sacks 25 100
Grains in ears 9 36
Closed barrels 8 32
Mixing with ash 7 28
Pumpkin fruits 6 24
al-Tatfīl 5 20

Table 3. Major insect pests found on stored grains in Wādī Hadramawt

Host crop Common name Latin name Family
Wheat Lesser grain borer Rhizopertha dominica Bostrychidae
Wheat & sorghum Khābrā beetle Trogoderma granarium Dermestidae
Pigeon pea Legume beetle Bruchid sp. Bostrychidae
Wheat & sorghum Red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum Bostrychidae
Sorghum Grain moth Ephestia sp. Gelechiidae
Beans Dry legume beetle Acanthoscelides obtectus Bruchidae
Cowpea & sorghum Cowpea beetle Callosobruchus maculatus Bruchidae
Sorghum Cereal moth Cutella sp. Gelechiidae
Sorghum & wheat Rice weevil Sitophilus oryzae Curculionidae


Director, Extension Centre, Seiyun-Yemen

Saeed A. Ba-Angood (Traducteur)

Department of Plant Protection, Nasir’s College of Agriculture, University of Aden

© Centre français de recherche de la péninsule Arabique, 2003

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