Doubling the Harvest: Pearl Millet Processing Solution
Compatible Technology International has a developed a series of simple devices for processing pearl millet, doubling the yield of available grain, reducing the time and effort required to process this grain and improving nutrition of rural households. This frees up time to pursue alternative family or entrepreneurial activities.
Describe the critical need your solution addresses.
More than 500 million people worldwide depend on pearl millet for food. But pearl millet, a highly nutritious grain, is difficult to process into useable food. Traditional processing methods are time consuming, inefficient and unhealthy, taking nearly a whole day to produce just enough grain to feed a family.
Explain your initiative in more depth and its stage of development.
CTI began exploring processing pearl millet in 2004 when a CTI volunteer learned how difficult this subsistence crop was to process. CTI’s mission is to help farmers process their crops post-harvest, more efficiently. CTI research did not reveal any other effective tool or technology currently in use by small landholders other than the traditional methods commonly used, which are time consuming and wasteful. The characteristics of pearl millet require special consideration in developing a simple technology to process it. Several pro-types were developed and tested at the USDA-ARS facility in Tipton, GA under the guidance of USDA scientist, Jeff Wilson.
In December 2009, proof of concept trials were conducted in Mali to introduce and test the equipment with local farmers. These trials demonstrated that CTI’s device allows farmers to process significantly more grain, which is of higher quality, in a shorter period of time. It was shown that in one hour of operation this CTI Technology would produce the same quantity of grain that six clock hours of traditional processing would produce without the losses in food that normally accompany these methods. And this can be done without the use of electrical power. Additionally, the grain obtained through the CTI process was not contaminated with foreign material (such as dirt and animal waste). From a quality perspective, the evaluation found few, if any, broken grains after winnowing (which can result in rancidity and off-flavors).
Following this successful trial, changes were made based on farmer feedback and it was converted to a final production design in metal. This final design will be evaluated in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in late 2010 and mid-2011. We will also be conducting a socio-economic survey which will provide us with valuable information necessary to formulate a complete training program and micro-enterprise business model.
How does your strategy and approach respond creatively and comprehensively to key issues?
CTI research has not revealed any other effective tool or technology for independent use by small landholders to process pearl millet in a manner other than the traditional labor and time intensive methods commonly used. Certainly technologies exist for processing pearl millet in a commercial or industrial setting. But such technologies are much too expensive or require electricity to operate. During the five years of development, leading up to the proof of concept trials in Mali in December 2009, we evaluated a variety of possible designs that could be used in poor rural settings but many resulted in excessive grain breakage which can lead to spoilage, had limited capacity, required complex assembly that would be hard to reproduce, or could not be converted to motorization easily.
Currently farmers in the developing world have two choices for processing their harvested grain: take their product to a "modern" thresher at a significant expense of cost and travel time, or process it themselves and suffer from gross inefficiencies, yield losses and potential health hazards, neither of which are appealing alternatives.
Sheila Nix, ONE’s U.S. executive director, engaged panelist at the World Food Prize October 13, 2010 on the importance of advocacy and the challenges we face. Sheila described how she saw firsthand “the catalytic effect of agriculture in Africa and the enormous impact that very simple, low cost solutions and investments in women can have on a community.” CTI’s breakthrough system, the CTI Thresher and Winnower, is just such a solution. It puts into the hands of small farmers a simple, low cost device that combines ease of operation with efficiency (low yield losses); is simple to manufacture and maintain in low resource settings due to its limited number of parts and; provides improved sanitary results by performing the threshing “off the ground”.