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How to Own the Pond - University of Missouri CAFNR News

This is a feature story from the University of Missouri, College of Agriculture Food & Natural Resources. Access the original here.  

Bioengineering master's student works on creating cost-effective machinery to help farmers in his native Africa


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Almost everyone probably has heard of this proverb at some point in their lives, but Gabriel Abdulai has made an amendment to the saying: “Teach me how to own the pond, so that I never go around looking for a pond to fish at, because if I own the pond, I know the time to fish and I can determine the kind of fish to grow inside.”

Abdulai, a native of Ghana, is a first-year master’s student in bioengineering in the Division of Food Systems and Bioengineering. The proverbial pond he talks about can be found in his homeland of Africa – and its ownership, Gabriel hopes, comes from fostering a sense of self-empowerment and entrepreneurship among his fellow Africans that mirrors his own.

A blacksmith works on assembling a part of a thresher in Tamale, Ghana, in August 2016. Photo courtesy of Kerry Clark.

Last August, before Gabriel made his first trip to the United States to begin his studies at the University of Missouri, he worked with local blacksmiths for two weeks at the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) near Tamale, Ghana, to help build mechanized threshers.

These machines – two powered by gasoline motors, one powered through bicycle pedals – were made specifically for small-scale farmers to allow to them to expedite the process of separating the chaff and straw from crops – in this case, mainly soybeans – thanks to the continuing efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL). The lab is an initiative taking place in 11 African countries focused on supporting soybean production and improving farmer yields by using high-quality seed and inputs, extension information and appropriate-scale mechanization. MU has researchers doing work as part of the SIL team in Ghana, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia and Malawi.

In a part of the world where most of the threshing is done manually by smashing the soybeans and other crops with heavy sticks, threshers like the one Gabriel helped create could save farmers an immeasurable amount of time and effort.

At the same time, if the blacksmiths are knowledgeable about how the threshers are built and maintained they can create a value chain that has not existed with the few threshers in Ghana and other parts of Africa that are imported and meant for large-scale farming production.

“The idea of the thresher is to empower local economies. That’s very important because there’s a lot of joblessness in Africa and other parts of the world,” says Gabriel, whose father at one point worked as an agricultural extension agent in Ghana.

“What we are doing is we are teaching the local blacksmiths how to own the pond. If I can design a thresher, that means I can meet the needs of the market of farmers and that means if I meet the needs of one farmer, he’s going to tell his other friends.”