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The sesame cleaner February 21st, 2016 by

At Agro-Insight we have the highest respect for farmer innovations. But you don’t need to be a farmer to invent appropriate technology for agriculture, as we saw last week in northern Uganda.

GADC (Gulu Agricultural Development Company) is a private firm that buys produce from farmers around Gulu and Kitgum in Northern Uganda. They export cotton, organic sesame, chili, and a few other commodities. Robert Ogwang is one of GADC’s extension supervisors. On Saturday 6 February 2016 he invited me to go along with him on a trip to buy commodities.

Our first stop was to visit Charles Olanya, a farmer who also works for GADC, buying sesame and sharing new ideas with farmers in Lugwak village, Dibulyac parish, just a few kilometers from the border with South Sudan. Charles went to university, and although he didn’t finish, he speaks English well. Charles earns a commission on the products he buys, so he has a vested interest in seeing that the neighboring farmers produce more.

forcing sesame through top screenRobert unloaded a sesame cleaner, made from wooden boards and two metal screens. Two women were working for Charles, winnowing the sesame. Because sesame grains are so small, it is difficult to separate them from the sand that inevitably gets into any crop that is produced in an open field. With the cleaner, the sesame passes through the top screen, leaving behind stones and trash. The dirt falls through the second, fine meshed screen. The cleaned sesame comes out between the two meshes. Charles went to work with the screen immediately. It was clear that he was happy with it.

I talked to Wilfred Kamulegeya, the GADC agronomist who invented the cleaner. Until a couple of years ago, the sesame was coming in from the field with 6% sand grains. That may not sound like much, but the company processed so much sesame that by the end of one season they had 200 tons of sand left over, which was difficult to dispose of.

the first large cleanerWilfred started to create the mini cleaner by working with a sesame cleaner made in Turkey, but it was too complicated. He then made a cleaner with no moving parts which he and a few workers started to use in 2014. They got faster the more they practiced. When they cleaned 150 bags in a day in a single day they were so proud they wrote the number on the front of the implement. After a while they could clean 800 bags a day.

Wilfred then made smaller versions and in January 2015 distributed them to some of the farmers who buy commodities in the villages for GADC. The new cleaner is simple to make, and it costs about $100. GADC gave 47 of them to their field staff, and are now making more, so that every farmer who buys for the company will have a cleaner. The company rewards the farmer-buyers with a premium price for turning in sesame that is 98% pure. At their plant in Kitgum, the company further cleans the little grains to 99.5% purity.

Farmers aren’t the only ones who innovate; buyers can also invent new technology. But no matter who invents the novelty, the proof of concept is that farmers use it.

When rural people reject a material item they can always find a use for it, so I wouldn’t have been overly surprised to see the new sesame cleaners being used to roost chickens or dry dishes. But that didn’t happen.

lined up to sell sesameEverywhere I went that week, I saw farmers using the new sesame cleaner. In the village of Opoki, I visited another farmer, Obalim Morris Cankura, who also doubles as a buyer and an extensionist. A line of farmers were patiently waiting their turn to sift their sesame on the new cleaner. Morris showed me the pile of dirt they had cleaned from the sesame during the day; the mini-cleaner is an efficient device.

In agriculture, inventions by outsiders are usually half baked. But this innovation seemed right on. An agronomist with a love for mechanical engineering had created a new tool that farmers are actually using. Commodity buyers and processers, like Wilfred, are practical people, with a job to do, just like farmers. Like academic researchers, the processers also have access to certain outside ideas and materials (like precision metal screening). Academic researchers would improve their inventions if they were closer to their audience.

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