The maize sheller is moving along. We’re thinking through the business model and we have a lot of tests to run. We had a productive visit to a village in Babati, about two hours out of Arusha. We presented the machine to about a dozen farmers who tried it out and gave us tons of feedback. The trip highlighted a few spots for improvements to the design, and we saw that people are already harvesting maize in that region. This is great news, because it means we can start running live tests of the maize shellers. Abdon, our local expert, is working his connections in Babati to find interested farmers. Rosy and I are building at least two more shellers with slightly altered designs. Ideally, we’ll take them back to Babati for a couple days, shell someone’s maize for a couple hours to test them, then lease them at a discount to farmers there. One assumption we’re eager to test is the idea that farmers can use the bicycle maize sheller not just to shell their own crop, but also to start a small business shelling other farmers’ maize. The experiences of these early customers will help us test the machine’s durability and its viability as a small business.
Here in Arusha, there are many organizations doing good work with smallholder farms. Just waving distance from Twende is the Arusha office for MVIWATA, a national farmers’ organization. Governed by its members, MVIWATA helps farmers organize into a network of small local groups to defend their interests, increase communication, and connect them with financial and technical resources. The Arusha representatives have been extremely helpful and have connected us with their office in Babati as well. Their goals dovetail nicely with ours, so I’m looking forward to working with them. They have fine-grained local knowledge from farmers across the country, and I think Twende has many projects that would interest their members.
We also met some folks from the ECHO East Africa Impact Center (http://echonet.org/). Based out of Florida, USA, ECHO has centers in Asia, East Africa and West Africa. They brought us to a village near the Arusha office to check up on the results of some training on conservation agriculture techniques. ECHO’s greatest strengths are not in mechanical technology, but in innovative practices. Strategies like digging contours for water control and building keyhole gardens to take advantage of household waste are effective and affordable to any household. ECHO is already involved in other Twende projects, and I think I’ll learn a lot from them about appropriate agricultural innovations.
Stay tuned for some notes and pictures from our next field visit.