OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Clay Food Storage - the Gulit Project

Reducing waste and improving profits for vendors in Addis Ababa.

Photo of Melat Assefa
32 21

Written by

EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

Everyday, vendors in the public community markets of Addis Ababa, known as gulits, finish their days with leftover produce. In some cases this food is resold the followings days, however in most markets it is discarded creating large quantities of food waste and loss of potential profit for vendors as they must restock their produce every morning. Focusing on the problem of food preservation, the proposed project aims to implement community food storage facilities that will primarily support small scale urban vendors. The multi-scaled and modular storage units (from zeer-pots to pavilion scaled food drying structures) are designed following the cooling properties of clay-based construction techniques. This will allow units to adapt to the multitude of different site conditions that exists in urban slums, including terrain (slope versus flat), solar radiation levels and overall market stall dimensions. The vendors that fill the market areas of urban slums play a central role in the urban-rural economic trade that exists in Addis Ababa. At the same time, they are an important part in the social dynamics that exist in the public sphere of each community. The social dualism of the markets will be a guiding factor in the implementation of this project, where the design and construction of the food storage facilities will be developed through open community workshops that will foster the exchange of information in regards to food preservation and climate change.

WHO BENEFITS?

Focusing on food preservation and using locally sourced construction materials, the project will strengthen the infrastructure for food vendors on an individual and community level. A local women’s crafts cooperative dedicated to clay based products will also work with the design team to produce the storage units giving makers a source of income. Through open workshops, all members will collaborate to create an environment of social and information exchange.

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

Every community has a different urban environment and each market vendor has different cooling or drying needs for their produce. No one solution will support all cases and it is because of these differences that exist in the urban slums that this project focuses on using a easily accessible material, clay, and merging a contemporary approach to modular construction techniques that can easily be modified as needed. From the beginning of human settlements, clay has played a central role in architecture, industrial production, and agriculture. It has been used for centuries to cool water, to carry seeds, to protect the people from weather and to preserve food. The proposed project will focus on the inherent properties of this material to develop a contemporary approach that will maximize its strengths in water retention, biodegradation and thermal insulation to create “active surfaces” that will be able to cool and retain food for longer periods of time. (As part of the ongoing research of the storage facilities, we also intend to implement sensor-based technologies where possible to monitor different environmental conditions including air quality, moisture levels, radiation, and temperature) The success of any project of this scale is based on collaboration. To this end, we have connected with a local administrative units (the Kebele’s), a local university, a women’s crafts cooperative, and specialists in food preservation. The subject of food storage and education in urban slums has no “quick fix” solution - it requires a long term strategy to make significant impact.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

The project is a collaboration between international and locally based architects, researchers and educators. Addis Ababa based coordinators are Julia Mauser, a practicing architect and Melat Assefa, an architect, lecturer and former chair for Computer Aided Design and Geo-Informatics at EiABC.

IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?

The team brings together a wide range of experience in regards to community engagement and working with local and recycled materials in construction projects. While the Gulit Project and the theme of food preservation is a new idea for the team as a whole, we have explored similar themes in past projects including the development of community gardens, working with clay based materials, as well as creating modular systems that can be implemented at a city-wide scale. Our initial conversations with vendors in the markets of central Addis Ababa revealed that food preservation and storage are central concerns. Every evening vendors discard leftover produce, and every morning they purchase new produce from wholesalers creating a cyclical pattern of waste. Looking at the context of city and the rising costs of food, this project looks to explore how storage techniques can help the economic sustainability of the vendors while at the same time help reduce the increasing food waste in markets.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?

We strongly believe including the end-users (i.e., market vendors) during all phases will create the most successful project. Our focus is to engage the community through open participatory workshops and to donate storage containers where at the early stages of the project users will have the ability to experiment different ways that they can be used. As designers, architects and researchers, our primary concern is developing a project that is scalable, and adaptable in the sense that it can be properly replicated in other areas of the city. Further, in looking at the economical relationship between farmers, vendors and shoppers, the proposed food preservation units will focus not only on food storage, but more importantly on specific produce and which may have a greater benefit to market vendors to help increase their overall earnings. Every market vendor and its surrounding community is unique, and by following a community led process, the end result will be a program, not a product. Team members and beneficiaries will maintain two-way information exchange and will ultimately focus on responding to both macro- and micro- scales issues simultaneously.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

During our ongoing research we are learning more about the different markets and how the local government regulates them. In certain Addis Ababa districts (kebele), the government allocates free land to the market vendors, while in others the land is owned by the vendors. In both scenarios, the layout of the markets are also administered differently in regards to their overall infrastructure (permanent vs temporary structures) and have various levels of access to electricity and clean water. If our project wishes to look at food preservation, adding to the existing infrastructure, understanding its effect at all scales deserves more research.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

The guilts are a complex environment attached to many layers of the city. It is linked economically to farmers, wholesalers, citizens while at the same time each market plays an important role within the social realm. This multi layered relationship is one reason why the subject of food preservation has not been resolved yet. At the scale of the fruit, each is unique and needs a specific environment (air ventilation, humidity) to last longer while at the scale of the market there are also issues on space distribution. For example in the temporary daily guilts vendors have informed us that each day is different and they cannot judge how much to buy from wholesalers to decrease food waste.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?

For the past couple weeks, the team based in Addis Ababa, has been interviewing food vendors, wholesalers and government officials to learn more about the current infrastructure of the ‘gulit’. Every interviewee has revealed new information about life at the markets including and, how the produce is farmed, bought, transported, and sold. As we learn more about the parameters of the markets, we are becoming interested in how our idea has an effect on the profits for the market vendors. For example, we have learned from that all unsold produce is thrown away each day and fresh stock is bought from wholesalers each morning. This scale of waste was not known at first, and it is evident that the smallest change where vendors can preserve certain produce for even one extra day can have a great impact on their profits. As architects and planners, we are also learning more about the various layouts of the markets. In some cases they are linear where all vendors are on one single row, but in others, there are several layers to the market having an affect on the flow of shoppers and ultimately which vendors receive more attention than others. Looking ahead to our next stage, we are setting our priorities in terms of overall scale (individual - city scale): 1. small scale storage unit made from clay 2. pavilion scaled structure that will be used for food drying 3. developing education platform for teaching market owners 4. developing an overall waste management plan

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

Our goal is to focus on two primary issues - first, the physical construction food preservation/storage units to prevent food waste, and second is education and how other preservation techniques such as food drying can be implemented. By engaging these two issues simultaneously we believe that when looking at city-wide scale issues we can have a better result not only in food preservation but as well in strengthening the community as a whole. (See uploaded diagram on growth) We are now starting with prototyping individually scaled clay based storage units and over the next two months we will be holding a design-build workshop between local clay crafts people and university students.

test.

Designing and build a sustainable prototype and system within the neighborhoods of Addis Ababa. This will provide an innovative solution for the loss of fruits and vegetables in turn adding economic value to small-scale sellers and food related businesses.

How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

During the past few months, since initiating our idea and throughout the improvement phase of the challenge, our team has gone out to engage the food community of Addis Ababa meeting with gulit vendors and their wholesalers. At the same time we have discussed our strategy with the only crafts cooperative namely that focuses on using clay. We are growing our local team with a network of specialists sharing the common goal to engage the subject of food preservation. In our research thus far we have not found any existing programs that focus on food preservation or education at the market level. There is a food waste program in the wholesale markets where leftover produce is collected and trucked to a composting facility outside the city. Our goal is to learn from such programs yet focus on working directly with gulit vendors to improve their market. For the creation of the storage containers we look to work directly with the local cooperative.

32 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Abdus
Team

Hi Melat,

I read the article.

I studied the social sciences and so the most interesting part for me was the talk of the gulit comprising several layers of society. It'd be interesting to think about how they interact and in what ways they co-operate and in what ways they are in competition.

About the idea... you clearly did a lot of research on these pots! Congratulations! Hopefully the idea will take off. It seems like something that should be implemented. I must confess, I have not really thought about such issues. I am Bangladeshi and the farmers there would certainly exp the same problems regarding waste/heat... and I have no idea how they deal with it, or if they just throw produce away. One unfortunate effect is that the prices go real down, on order to sell the mountains of tomatoes, so I wonder if the farmers actually make a loss...
AS.

View all comments