This story was featured on the USAID Feed the Future website Agrilinks.
An eight-day training was held this past month to teach local blacksmiths how to fabricate small-scale crop threshers for use in northern Ghana. The Soybean Innovation Lab research team, in collaboration with USAID Agriculture Technology Transfer Project and Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) project, carried out the training. The threshers are designed to increase soybean production by ridding farmers of the labor which goes into manual crop harvests.
Below are some answers to the questions the Agrilinks team posed to Soybean Innovation Lab researcher Kerry Clark. Here, she reflects on the process which led to the pilot training and how the it utilizes crowd-sourced innovation to reach a wide number of farming communities.
Ghana was chosen for this project because the inspiration for the project was a group of Ghanaian women and a welder in Upper West. Through a Peace Corps volunteer, we heard that a women’s group in Bulenga had a thresher built by a local blacksmith in Wa. We traveled to see the thresher, talk to the women and visit the fabricator. Overall, the women were pleased with the thresher, which they were using to thresh soybean and sorghum. They reported that they could thresh approximately 1,000 kilograms a day in the small thresher. Although the cost of the thresher was very affordable, we noticed some features that we believed might lead to a shortened lifespan for the equipment, including the quality of the sheet metal used and the lack of greaseable bearings.
When we visited the fabricator, I had the realization that Ghana could easily meet its own demand for agricultural technology. The welder, Hakeem Karim, was an intelligent young man with good skills who was obviously considering end-user needs in his design. He had several threshers in various stages of production and was able to comment on each one where he needed to make changes to improve his product. I thought that if there were other welders out there like this guy, then all Ghana needed was a good design and a little bit of information and they could start a homegrown thresher fabrication industry. Why import when you have a capable and willing manufacturing base available? Plus, the imports were not really meeting Ghanaian needs because they were designed with only larger-scale or tractor-owning farmers in mind.
What specific challenges are you hoping to address in providing these locally built threshers?
We saw several issues around the availability and usage of harvest technology in Ghana. First was that the threshers available in the market are all imports and too large and expensive (several thousand U.S. dollars) for smallholder farmers. We often see these threshers broken down and unused as well. The design on many of these imports is not user-friendly; the inside of the machine is not easily accessible if there are problems, such as a jammed threshing cylinder. We doubt that there was any usage or maintenance training that accompanied these threshers. If people are not making purchases of agricultural equipment locally, then there is also likely no local contact for continued repair of the machine. Also, most imported threshers are ones designed for maize. Soybean, small grains and pulse crops are extremely underserved in available harvest technologies in Ghana.
Our goal was to design and build a small, durable and inexpensive thresher that is appropriate for small-scale soybean production (~1-2 acres). We also thought it was vital that fabrication be a local industry in order to have local and ongoing oversight of equipment functionality and repairs. Businesses that build equipment have a vested interest in making sure that the equipment is used properly, has a long, functional life and is appropriately designed for customer needs. We believe that by training local welders to manufacture these threshers, we increase the interest level and the exposure to the technology and we make it less likely that they will quickly break down and be forgotten. Local production gives the end-user someone to talk to when there are problems or someone to bring the machine to when it needs repairs. A local fabricator will be more motivated to get his product fixed and back in the field than he might for a thresher that was imported. The local fabricator also has a more detailed knowledge of the design of a thresher he has fabricated and is more likely to be able to fix it than equipment he is not familiar with or which might have parts that cannot be found locally.
To learn more about the training process, the thresher design and fabrication training report composed by the Soybean Innovation lab here.