By Deborah B. Hamilton, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation
Pearl millet, one of the most extensively cultivated cereals in the world and a key staple crop in the African Sahel, is particularly important to the food security of smallholder farmers in arid regions. With over 230,000 millet farmers in Senegal, over 3.9 million millet farmers in West Africa, and over 95 percent of these farmers using the ancient mortar and pestle to thresh millet, the demand and need for an improved technology are immense.
However, up to 10 to 20 percent of this critical crop is lost in postharvest as smallholders largely rely on rudimentary hand tools for threshing, winnowing, and milling pearl millet into edible flour. In addition, these tasks fall primarily to women who bear the brunt of this physically demanding and ultimately inefficient process.
With few effective tools available for smallholders to reduce the labor needed to process the grain, Compatible Technology International (CTI), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, developed Outils de Céréales, a mechanical, hand-operated tool package that processes pearl millet from seed heads into clean, unbroken grain in minutes. Outils de Céréales includes a manually operated stripper, thresher, winnower, and grinder. The thresher alone allows women to process one kilogram of grain in three minutes, less than half the time and twice the efficiency as threshing manually. It also captures more than 90 percent of the grain, significantly reducing food waste.
Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation invested almost $400,000 in a commercialization grant to help CTI make its product more accessible and affordable for Senegal’s smallholder farmers. With program support, CTI began working in partnership with SISMAR, a Senegalese manufacturer with a regional marketing presence that has a strong brand and reputation for quality, with the goal to reduce the sales price 35 percent by eliminating the shipping, customs, and logistics costs incurred by external manufacturing. The commercialization grant also allows CTI and SISMAR to test market the more affordable product; by end-activity, over 1,000 communities and cooperatives affecting 16,200 individuals will have purchased them, and provided feedback. The true transformative impact of the package will be post pilot phase, however, when SISMAR will have ramped up its manufacturing to meet exponentially increasing demand. As the market for this product increases, it has the potential to reach a majority of Senegal’s smallholders with even greater potential for expansion throughout West Africa.