Perspectives Online

Cultivating EfficiencyCALS Extension and research faculty members help Ghana peanut growers with new shelling technology. By Natalie Hampton

Dr. Brandenburg examines peanuts drying on the ground.
Photo by Natalie Hampton

Peanut growers in Ghana who have been part of an educational initiative headed by collaborators in N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have a seen their yields double and triple since the program began 13 years ago. But with the increased yields came another problem: The growers couldn’t keep up with higher yield by hand-shelling the peanuts, called “groundnuts” in Africa.

Dr. Rick Brandenburg, William Neal Reynolds Professor of entomology, and Dr. David Jordan, Cooperative Extension peanut specialist in crop science, have a long relationship with Ghana through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Peanut Collaborative Research and Support Program (CRSP) there. They work with Ghana’s researchers and extension professionals to develop improved peanut varieties and cultivation practices. Ghana’s extension professionals help introduce new technologies to growers through farmer field schools in rural villages.

In Ghana, Dr. Rick Brandenburg, Natalie Hampton and Dr. Mike Owusu-Akyaw inspect peanut test plots at the Crops Research Institute.
Photo courtesy Natalie Hampton
On their annual trip to Ghana last summer, the N.C. State collaborators were able to help the growers with the shelling problem by working in partnership with the Full Belly Project, a non-profit group based in Wilmington. Full Belly’s founder, Jock Brandis, agreed to come to Ghana to teach technicians to build a simple peanut sheller made of concrete and locally available moving parts. Brandis, who formerly worked in the film industry, develops simple machines to solve agricultural problems around the world.

“We are engineers,” Brandis said of the Full Belly Project. “We just figure out ways to process food and move water.”

Brandenburg says that the Full Belly Project first contacted the Peanut CRSP about developing shellers for the program. He learned this summer that Brandis was planning a trip to Africa when he and Jordan would be there, so the Peanut CRSP arranged for Brandis to train technicians at the Crops Research Institute in Kumasi. ACDI-VOCA international aid agency also provided some funding for the effort.

“We saw that it would be great if somebody from Full Belly could actually go to Ghana and train technicians to build [the shellers], and that way, the project would be sustainable because they could build as many as they want,” Brandenburg said.

The Peanut CRSP works with scientists at Ghana’s Crops Research Institute (CRI), a research facility of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Brandenburg felt that it would be helpful for CRI’s technicians to learn directly from Brandis how to make the shellers.

Jock Brandis (center) of Full Belly Project joins technicians in demonstrating shellers for shea nuts and peanuts.
Photo by Natalie Hampton
The shellers were made from concrete and parts from old bicycles and other discarded materials. Brandis says the concrete is efficient and durable. By using parts that can be found in Ghana, growers there will not have to wait for replacement parts from abroad if the shellers break. That makes the project sustainable.

“If you make it local, you can fix it local,” Brandis said. “We don’t bring anything in. We use what’s available in country.”

During the July trip, which closely followed President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Ghana, Brandis and the CRI technicians demonstrated a simple peanut sheller, a shea nut sheller and a foot-operated water pump that could water an acre of land in a week. Irrigation is not available to most growers in Ghana.

“The technicians now have completed the full complement of 30 shellers, and those are being distributed to five villages,” Brandenburg said. “The feedback that I’ve gotten from everyone is that the shellers are the greatest thing since sliced bread! They think they’re incredible.”

A person can shell about 1 kilogram of peanuts in an hour by hand. Using the new shellers, growers will be about to shell about 50 kilograms of peanuts in the same period. Only about 5 percent of the peanuts shelled this way are broken – an acceptable standard for marketing.

Jordan has since incorporated the Full Belly Project into class lectures, helping undergraduate students understand the value of this development project to Ghana’s peanut growers.

Brandenburg said the growers will learn to use the shellers during the minor crop grown in the fall, then next year they’ll be able to shell their entire crop, when the market price is right. The convenience of having a sheller may even lead to increased peanut acreage, he said.

Dr. David Jordan, Extension peanut specialist in crop science, worked in Ghana to help growers improve cultivation practices. He now includes the experience in his lectures to CALS undergraduates.
Photo by Natalie Hampton
Yaa Adu, 45-year-old peanut grower in Hiawoanwu, said the sheller would help her in two ways: The first was reducing the fatigue of hand shelling peanuts. The second improvement was more economic: Being able to quickly shell peanuts would allow her and other growers to take advantage of times when the market price for peanuts is high. Hand shelling isn’t fast enough to allow growers to rush peanuts to market to take advantage of a price premium.

Grower Janet Serwaah, 46, who tried the peanut sheller during the demonstration, said she has wanted to expand her peanut operation, but hand shelling limited her capacity to handle a larger crop yield. With the sheller, she said, expansion is now an option for her.

“When the price is right, they can now shell peanuts and get them to the marketplace,” Brandenburg said. “Undoubtedly, it will allow the growers to get a better price (for their crop), but it may also allow them to grow more.”

In the 13 years since the Peanut CRSP began working in Ghana, Brandenburg has seen growers adopt many improvements in production. Early on, they began doing germination tests to check the quality of seed. That, along with row planting, improved cultivars, timely harvest, more efficient weeding practices and the use of local soap sprays to suppress disease and insects led to improved yields. As a result, growers have increased their peanut acreage as they discovered they could actually make money on groundnuts.

Grower Janet Serwaah tries the sheller, which could allow her to expand her peanut operation.
Photo by Natalie Hampton
“We got lots of stories of where farmers were able to buy taxis and farmers were able to build new houses. And the acreage just keeps increasing, which tells you that they’re finding groundnuts to be a profitable crop,” Brandenburg said.

Now that the Peanut CRSP and its collaborators have shown that growing peanuts can be profitable, the next challenge is finding an export market. Europe would be a logical trading partner for Ghana’s peanuts, but the European Union has strict requirements on the levels of aflatoxin, a mycotoxin that can grow on the peanuts in storage.

“Perhaps that’s just an additional opportunity,” Brandenburg said. “I would really like to see us work on the marketing angle. I think now a lot of the research has been done, and it’s just a matter of testing it in new locations. We’re going to see more and more peanuts grown in Ghana.”

Brandenburg would like to see Ghana become a regional training center on the model implemented by USAID — researchers actively engaged in developing new agricultural technologies, taking those technologies to the field to show farmers how they work and involving extension in teaching farmers how to use the technologies.

Those who have been trained in this model in Ghana have proven that it can work and could share this system with other countries in West Africa to address a variety of agricultural challenges. In Ghana, the model works because the CRI scientists have actively driven the research to the farmers, Brandenburg said. “The scientists we work with don’t just want publications; they want adoption.”