For nearly a decade, UHart engineering students and professors have been working steadily to ease the manual labor burden for women and small-scale farmers in the Western Lakes region of Kenya. Their efforts are transforming farming, cultivating a locally robust entrepreneurial community, and giving students the chance to use their skills for social good.
During the team’s most recent visit in June, biomedical engineering major Anna Hiers ’19 and electrical engineering major Griffin Sheperd ’19 took to Kenya’s back roads and tested a “rugged” motor bike trailer they designed to transport goods and equipment. “Building and testing the utility trailer was one of the highlights of our trip,” says Anna. “We used locally sourced materials to assemble it and were happy it held up very well and successfully transported 250 pounds of water.” Watch a video of the trailer test.
The trailer is also sturdy enough to carry a UHart-engineered multi-grain thresher. Originally designed as a senior thesis project by alum Alex Schettino ’11, the metal thresher has an engine and can replace manual harvesting of essential grains like amaranth, resulting in up to a 70 percent increase in yield. It proved so revolutionary, the UHart team determined it could help local residents build and sell it as a profitable business venture. Watch a video of Kenyan women testing the original thresher here.
“Barney School of Business alum Dave Cooley M’99 has been a key partner in our efforts to make a long term impact on the local economy by mentoring Kenyan entrepreneurs interested in marketing and distributing the thresher, trailer, and other mechanical equipment,” says David Pines, assistant dean and professor in the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture. “As an outcome of the on-site business workshops led by Dave [Cooley] and Marcia Hughes, [of the University’s Center for Social Research], a local company has been established, and threshers have been ordered and will soon be delivered.”
Watching communities benefit from the creation of a sustainable business model has made an impression on Griffin. “As students, it’s definitely rewarding to have an immediate impact when you volunteer during one visit,” he shares. “But in this instance, we also learned that by partnering with the farmers over time, we have engineered a farming solution that is resulting in permanent changes in the economy.”
Among other projects, the UHart team has helped farmers install a model micro-irrigation system that has resulted in two profitable growing seasons, and is developing a model 10-acre amaranth crop to identify it as a source of additional profit for rice farmers during their “off” season.
The Newman’s Own Foundation, Pratt & Whitney, and UHart’s Student Government Association via the University’s Hartford Chapter of Engineers without Borders (EWB) gratefully fund work in Kenya. To learn more about EWB at UHart, click here.