For the women of Kenya’s Lake Region, farming is simply a way of life. They harvest amaranth, a nutritious and drought-resistant grain that is essential to their families’ diet. The traditional harvesting technique is extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive and can cause much of the amaranth to go to waste. That’s where researchers from the University of Hartford come in. They are designing a piece of farming equipment to dramatically improve the harvesting process.
The machine, known as a thresher, removes the amaranth grain from the plant more quickly and efficiently than crushing it by hand or foot can. The thresher has been around for centuries, but for the last several years UHart professors, students, and alumni have been modifying it to meet the specific needs of the Lake Region. For example, Alexander Schettino ’11 created a wooden thresher for his senior engineering project. David Pines, a professor in the University’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture and a key member of the team in Kenya, says Schettino’s concept worked very well but required changes after they received feedback from farmers. The current version is made of metal and uses a foot petal instead of a turn crank.
Pines and his colleagues, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Bernard den Ouden and Marcia Hughes, a research and evaluation analyst at the University’s Center for Social Research, found the new machine produces a 70 percent increase in yield for amaranth compared to the traditional method.
This obviously helps the farmers, but it is also good news for Lake Region residents who are considering building and selling the threshers. The next step is for University Barney School of Business students to help local Kenyan entrepreneurs market their businesses. Pines, den Ouden, and Hughes see the potential for these enterprises to create many new jobs in the area. This meets the larger goal of the University team, which is to work with farmers in Kenya to create sustainable solutions to problems.