Working for Peanuts – Agricultural innovations for small-scale farmers



UNS Womens AssociationIn many underdeveloped nations, the primary form of income generation is agriculture. Often a lack of resources means that the physical labour required is highly intensive and sometimes inefficient. Large mechanical tools are expensive and may not be practical or available – but they’re not the only options.

The Full Belly Project offers simple agriculture inventions as a solution. Standing firmly against the idea of handouts, the organization aims to enable people better help themselves in the work that they do, rather than having to rely on others. These inventions are unlikely to be useful to someone who has no livelihood as they are aimed at small-scale women’s groups or farmers who can use the tools to bolster their yield.

Universal Nut ShellerThe project that got the organization rolling was the Universal Nut Sheller (UNS).  In many African countries, peanuts are a common agricultural crop. The shelling of them, however, can be highly tedious; according to the Full Belly Project, African women spend four billion hours shelling peanuts each year. Harmful toxins on the shells can be absorbed through the skin and cause health issues for the workers. The Universal Nut Sheller drastically improves productivity, increasing the rate of shelling 60 fold while limiting physical contact with toxins.

The UNS does not come assembled. A small “factory” in a box is provided, with molds and metal parts to make four machines, as well as instructions available in English, French or Spanish (potentially limiting in extremely rural or tribal areas). Concrete and rubber (part of an old tire, for example) must be locally sourced, which helps to support the local economy. The UNS can also be used to shell coffee beans (with an adaptation to the product), jatropha and shea, among other rounded nuts.

An older video by the organization places the price of the product at $60 (U.S.), though the amount was expected to come down, and it’s unclear exactly how much it runs for now. In Senegal, a Peace Corps worker who travelled around promoting the UNS found that people were highly impressed, but hesitant to buy in their pre-harvest season. Still, many communities did choose to invest in the product or vowed to do so once harvest money had come in.

Rocker PumpAnother of the many interesting inventions the Full Belly Project promotes is the Rocker Pump. This product is aimed at helping farmers distribute water to animals or crops from a standing body of water. Again, the basics are provided in a mini-factory box, with some items needing to be obtained locally. Similar products often require expensive replacement parts from China, the organization says, so being able to obtain materials easily and cheaply is a plus. Once built, the pump is operated by having a person stand on top and rock it from side to side, like a tiny teeter totter. It’s an undeniably easy-looking movement, provided you are able to do it, and it allows farmers to access two acres of land a day with 200 feet of hose. At a rate of five gallons a minute, a 55-gallon drum can be filled in 11 minutes – enough for one dairy cow, six pigs or a flock of about 30 chickens.

From the perspective of someone who’s less-than-adept at hands-on projects and knows little about agriculture, the products appear a bit intimidating. But as people travel around to promote the products, after buying a “Seed Project Contribution” from the U.S., they can assist in the training. And the organization assures assembly is quite straightforward. With the Full Belly Project’s inventions now distributed across 38 countries, they must be doing something right.


Lindsay Purchase

Lindsay Purchase

Lindsay Purchase is a journalist and lover of all things international living in Toronto, Canada.

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