Friday, September 9, 2011

Engineering Student Takes His Capstone Design Project to Kenya to Help Rural Farmers

Alex Schettino decided for his mechanical engineering capstone design project to take on the challenge of improving agricultural productivity in Western Kenya where food security is a problem faced by many rural farmers.  After discussing the issue with Dr. Bernard den Ouden (Philosophy Professor) and Dr. David Pines (Civil Engineering Professor) who had traveled to the region in summer 2009, Alex used his creativity in designing a mechanical thresher that used appropriate and affordable materials in Western Kenya.

With funding from friends of the College of Engineering, Technology & Architecture, Alex and Dr. David Pines traveled to Kenya in July 2011 to fabricate, test, and demonstrate the thresher for harvesting amaranth grain.  The stage was set for a very successful trip by Dr. Marcia Hughes (Center for Social Research Assistant Director, University of Hartford) and Marene Ferguson (Hartford Art School Student) who coordinated the building of the thresher at a local polytechnic school during their trip to Kenya in June 2011.  Also, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) partnered with Alex in coordinating demonstrations of the thresher at three farms growing amaranth grain. 

The construction of the thresher was successful and it was time to head to the fields to test out the thresher and get feedback from the farmers on what they like and on potential improvements to the design.


Many of the farmers, both men and women, tested the thresher.  Feedback was very positive!!

Tests were then done to compare the mechanical thresher that Alex designed to the traditional method of threshing with flails.  It was no contest, the rural farmers comments were “machine thresher is much easier and takes less energy,” “product is much cleaner with no rocks or sand,” and “good amount of seeds from amaranth harvested using machine.”
Weighting the Amaranth

Traditional Method of Threshing

Clean grain from Machine Thresher

Much Work Remains to Clean Grain

There is still much work ahead of the University of Hartford team to bring the thresher to market.  We continue to work with KARI in providing outreach to the community and helping us create a market where the local artisans sell the affordable thresher to rural farmers who use it to increase their productivity.  A win-win situation all around and a sustainable solution to solving the food security problem facing rural farmers in Western Kenya and a model that can be replicated in East Africa and beyond!

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