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Empowering Smallholder Farmers with Locally-Made Technology

Many smallholder farmers in the tropics do not have access to durable and affordable harvest equipment such as crop threshers, machines which separate grain from plants. Instead, the farmers rely on beating the plants with sticks to separate the grain, a time and labor intensive process which often leads to damage and low yields, limiting the ability of farmers to prosper. Imported threshers are often too costly, large and cumbersome for small farmers, have too high of energy needs or end up in the scrap pile if repair parts cannot be located or fabricated. That’s where our support of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois and the Soybean Innovation Lab comes in.

Supported by an ADM Cares grant, the team’s mechanization program creates a local, skilled workforce for the fabrication of small to medium sized threshers, solving many of the problems of availability and affordability that prevent smallholder farmers from scaling up production. They hold workshops to train local fabricators who can manufacture, repair, and service the threshers, creating opportunities for employment and an injection into the local economy. So far, the team from SIL has held trainings in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi.

“African agricultural productivity cannot be significantly increased until mechanization is made available to handle higher yields or increased acreage under production,” said SIL researcher Kerry Clark. “This project is an important starting point for improving productivity and decreasing post-harvest loss in Africa.”

The multi-crop thresher was designed by a Ghanaian engineer and has been extensively field-tested by both SIL and farmers. It shells maize in the husk and threshes soybean and rice with no grain loss. It can thresh maize, soybean, rice, sorghum, cowpea and common beans. It threshes soybean 40 times faster than traditional stick beating and helps reduce drudgery and increase productivity for smallholder farmers. The multi-crop thresher is sized and priced for purchase and use by thresher service providers for smallholder farmers or mid-sized farmers.

“Improved mechanization is so critical to farming in the region,” said Clark. “This training has contributed to bigger yields and higher profits, bettering the lives of smallholder farmers and fabricators alike.”

Click here to watch a video about the thresher mechanization program.