Last week we started wrapping up what I’ve come to think of as our first round of field testing. Of the three farmers testing maize shellers in Babati, two have shelled all their maize for this season using the bicycle-powered maize shellers.
Our first customer, in Galapo, owns two farms, each around 5 acres. He used the bicycle-powered machine for a total of 26 gunia (2600kg) of shelled maize from both farms. He did all the shelling with help from his children. It took five days on one farm and four days on the other, but they shelled for only a few hours at a time each day, so we’re not sure what the exact throughput was. This particular customer is a little wealthier than our main target market. In past years, he’s paid 1000 shillings per gunia to shell his maize with a motorized machine instead of using cheaper manual methods. With the 20000-shilling rental price, that means he saved 6000 shillings this month. In most seasons, he would have harvested much more maize, increasing his savings. However, he still said that the bicycle-powered maize sheller would be a good purchase for him because with it his wife and children could take care of the shelling while he tended to other crops.
In Singe, one of our pilot farmers also shelled all of his maize using the bicycle sheller. He shelled 7 gunia of maize from his two-acre farm in just one day. This farmer usually uses the kupiga method for shelling, so the machine saved him a lot of labor and possibly some money as well since he didn’t have to pay anyone else to work with him. Our other customer in Singe wasn’t able to finish shelling because the bearing on his machine was loose. We’d fixed that same bearing earlier, but obviously not permanently enough. So we replaced the faulty sheller and brought it back to the workshop to study. He said he plans to use the new machine for all the maize he’s harvested this season.
Harvest and shelling season in Babati seems to be drawing to a close. We’ve heard a lot of good feedback from our three testers, including some findings that make me worry that sales might be difficult. Based on the three villages we visited and everyone we’ve spoken with in Babati, it looks like the harvest was extremely small this year. All the maize fields we’ve seen are rain-fed and this past rainy season was drier than usual. Babati farmers have told us that in a good year they can grow ten or even up to twenty gunia of maize per acre. But this year they are averaging closer to three gunia per acre. Several farmers have told us they’ll need to buy more maize just to feed their families throughout the year. Last year, we’re told, Babati had the opposite problem—the maize harvest was so bountiful that farmers struggled to sell off their crop for low prices before it spoiled. These two examples highlight the importance of efforts by groups like Echo and MVIWATA to help increase resilience to climate change and the resultant weather fluctuations. We’re grateful to all the farmers who helped us out in Babati and we hope that their other crops will be more successful.
Looking around here in Arusha, I can see maize almost ready to harvest. At the workshop we’re preparing for another round of field testing. Now that we’ve ironed out the biggest technical details, we’ll hopefully be able to run better tests on factors like shelling throughput and willingness to pay.