Empowering Meru Farmers

Design and development of a context-adapted manual groundnut thresher for smallholder farmers in the Meru Region, Kenya

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In a collaborative effort spanning between the Netherlands and Kenya, this project aimed to enhance the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the Meru region by designing a manual groundnut thresher. Recognising the importance of cultural context, I embarked on a journey guided by a cultural anthropological research approach, placing a strong emphasis on co-creation and iterative prototyping to ensure the tool’s effectiveness and usability.

Through research, several challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Meru were uncovered. Handpicking groundnuts is labour-intensive and time-consuming, limiting productivity and income generation. Additionally, there is a lack of tools available to aid in the harvest of groundnuts, and the options found in other regions, such as Asia, were prohibitively expensive or unsafe.

This project fostered a collaborative environment where stakeholders from diverse backgrounds actively participated in the design process. Farmers, engineers, and students from a local technical institute worked together to co-create solutions tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the community. This inclusive approach ensured that the final product addressed the real challenges faced by farmers on the ground.

Prototyping played a prominent role in refining the design concepts and iterating towards the final prototype. We experimented with various mechanisms and configurations to optimise the thresher’s performance and usability. Continuous feedback loops enabled us to make iterative improvements, ensuring that the final product met the standards of quality and functionality.

After multiple iterations and rigorous testing, we developed a working final prototype: the Manual Groundnut Harvester. This innovative tool streamlines the harvesting process, reducing the time and labour required to thresh groundnuts. Its design allows for easy operation by farmers of all skill levels, empowering them to increase their productivity and income. Additionally, the thresher’s cultural sensitivity ensures seamless integration into the local farming practices, further enhancing its adoption and impact.

Looking ahead, the project holds promising prospects for the future. The Manual Groundnut Harvester and its redesign have the potential to significantly improve groundnut farming in Meru, offering a sustainable solution to enhance productivity and livelihoods. Moreover, the collaborative approach serves as a model for future design projects, emphasising the importance of co-creation and cultural sensitivity in addressing complex socio-economic challenges.

In conclusion, this journey to design and develop the Manual Groundnut Harvester exemplifies the power of inclusive design and collaborative innovation. By leveraging local knowledge, expertise, and resources, we have created a solution that not only improves agricultural practices but also fosters economic empowerment and community resilience in the Meru region.