Threshing and Winnowing Tef

Once the tef has been harvested the next stage is to separate the grain from the rest of the plant. We can see this happening all around the countryside in recent weeks. It is very interesting to be able to watch the process which follows traditional methods.

First, the farmers take their harvest to a threshing floor – a flat circular area marked out by stones. These seem to be communal areas and farmers take their turn to use them. The tef is laid out on the ground and oxen are driven round and round for hours, crushing the plant and releasing the grain – this is threshing. The oxen are driven around by one or two men who sing, make loud trilling noises and occassionally use sticks to get the cows to move and to stop them eating the tef. Another man lifts up the tef in the air using two-pronged wooden pitchforks to turn and mix the pile.

Towards the end of the day the crushed tef is then sifted – this is called winnowing. Two men lift up the tef in flat wicker baskets above their heads and slowly let it fall to the ground. The grain falls straight down and the chaff float of to the side. Another man is sweeping and wafting any remaining stalks off of the pile of tef grain. In this picture you can see the tef grain in a small mound by the men’s feet, looking a little like sand. This is then bagged up and goes on to be processed further, being pounded into flour before it can become injera.

Although the harvest is carried out by male and female, young and old, this part of the process is deemed mens’ work. A woman will often be around to provide food (injera and shiro-wot which is a lentil / pea paste curry) and refreshment (tella, a slightly fermented weak beer made from local grains like maize or millet). Also on this occassion there was also a grainy type of bread, which I hadn’t seen before.

This is a picture of injera, the end result of all this hot, sweaty work – ploughing, sowing, growing, harvesting, threshing, winnowing, pounding and cooking.

Here is a video of I made outisde the college gates of the farmers threshing the teff grain:

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5 Responses to Threshing and Winnowing Tef

  1. Pingback: Making Tef Flour |

  2. ashwathy prasad says:

    it is very useful to me thank you!!!!!!!!!

  3. Kristin says:

    My daughter is studying the harvesting process and we were totally stumped about the difference between threshing and winnowing! May we have the password to the video to watch it? Our email address is ****. Thanks for considering it – and thanks for the inside look at this beautiful process!

  4. Pingback: Threshing time | Lorna of Arabia

  5. pcbessa says:

    Nice. I just found this by a google search. I was growing teff on my own, here in Iceland and indoors, crazy no? It was growing fine and I kind of beat the straw and had a handful of grain :) So small, its unbelievable to realize that this is a staple of Ethiopia!

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