September 22, 2002 - Wilmington Star-News: Coastal Carolina Returned Peace Corps Volunteers promote Malian Peanut Sheller
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September 22, 2002 - Wilmington Star-News: Coastal Carolina Returned Peace Corps Volunteers promote Malian Peanut Sheller
Coastal Carolina Returned Peace Corps Volunteers promote Malian Peanut Sheller
Read and comment on this story from the Wilmington Star-News on a Peanut Sheller that the Coastal Carolina Returned Peace Corps Volunteer are publicizing and promoting for use in Mali at:
Shelling out an idea*
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Shelling out an idea
By Ben Steelman
Jock Brandis hasn't exactly built a better mousetrap.
The Wilmington filmmaker's tinkering, however, may have achieved what one researcher has called "the holy grail of sustainable agriculture": a low-cost, easy-to-build, reliable peanut sheller that could serve the needs of an entire African village.
A prototype of the sheller, sitting in a local garage, doesn't look world-shaking. Picture a large, tapered concrete cone, shaped like an upside-down soft-drink cup, perched on four skinny legs.
Still, experts believe it could solve a lot of problems facing Third World countries, from poor nutrition to soil depletion.
"I honestly think it could change the lives of millions of people," said Canadian filmmaker Martin Harbury.
Mr. Harbury's documentary about the project, Peanuts, has been bought by the educational television network of Ontario and is expected to air on The Discovery Channel's Canadian service.
Meanwhile, the sheller has been field-tested in India, Pakistan and the South American republic of Guyana. An association of Peace Corps veterans in North Carolina is working to publicize the invention and to help others copy it for free. They've posted details on their own Web site, www.peanutsheller.org.
According to Mr. Brandis, the whole concept started when he made a few promises too many.
The first promise came when a fellow veteran of Wilmington film crews, Carrie Young, volunteered for the Peace Corps. She was assigned to Mali, a land-locked nation of 11 million people in western Africa, just southwest of Algeria.
"I'd had some experience with Africa," said Mr. Brandis, who, in his 20s, had worked with the British relief agency Oxfam and some of its Canadian counterparts. "So I told her, 'if you need any technical help, write me, and I'll support you from this end.'"
Before too long, a letter arrived. The village where Ms. Young was working had a water system run by a solar-powered pump, installed by a Danish aid agency. After 15 years, that pump needed major repairs.
Mr. Brandis took time off from his regular job - broadcast engineer with Wilmington public radio station WHQR - and caught an Ethiopian Airlines flight into Mali. An overland trek took him to "a tiny little mud-hut village in the middle of nowhere - 300 miles south of Timbuktu, to be precise," he said.
He soon had the pump running well again. (Around Christmas, he plans to return to the village, to install new solar panels.) Chatting with Ms. Young, and looking around, however, he soon saw other problems.
For one, many of the children suffered from protein deficiencies. This could be helped by more peanuts in their diets.
Peanuts already grow widely in Africa. In fact, an estimated half a billion people in Asia and Africa rely on peanuts for subsistence. So respected is the peanut plant that many Africans believe it has a soul.
It would be hard to grow more peanuts for food, though.
In Mali, most peanuts are sun-dried rather than roasted. Roasting would use too much precious firewood, and with many Malians fighting the encroachments of the Sahara Desert from the north, cutting down more trees for fires is not a good idea.
Trouble is, "a sun-dried peanut is like a little rock," Mr. Brandis said. "It's that hard." Unlike a roasted kernel, a sun-dried kernel does not shrink in the shell. Cracking the shells takes many hours of effort for the village women who traditionally do the chore, and it often leaves their hands bloody.
Another problem, Mr. Brandis spotted as he rode to the village: "all these brand-new, enormous cotton warehouses." Farmers in Mali are growing more and more cotton as a cash crop. The country is now second only to Egypt in cotton production on the African continent.
On the other hand, Mr. Brandis knew enough history of the American South to guess what would happen next. Cotton crops soak up enormous quantities of nutrients from the soil. Within a generation or two, the soil could be depleted, and the farmers could be left in worse shape than ever.
One answer: the peanut, a legume "can undo the damage cotton does," Mr. Brandis said.
A century ago, George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute had discovered that two years of planting peanuts could restore the soil nutrients lost from a single cotton crop. If Malian farmers could rotate their crops, their fields could be saved - and if peanuts became easier to use as a staple food, they would have more incentive to do so.
Almost every village in Mali has a women's cooperative that helps its members make extra money for their families by selling garden crops and crafts. The head of the co-op in Ms. Young's village made Mr. Brandis promise he'd send back a peanut sheller that worked.
"I figured I'd get home, go on the Internet and have something shipped in two weeks, tops," he said.
Instead, he discovered that no such sheller existed. The only machinery he could find for that purpose was diesel-hungry and factory-sized - beyond the reach of African villagers without much money.
"So I guess I did what any Canadian with a question about peanuts would do," Mr. Brandis said. "I wrote Jimmy Carter."
The former U.S. president and peanut grower referred Mr. Brandis to Tim Williams, director of peanut programs at the University of Georgia's College of Agriculture and Sciences in Griffin, Ga.
Dr. Williams had bad news. No such sheller was known to exist. (It was he who called the idea "the holy grail.") None of the designs that anyone tried had worked very well. For information, he forwarded a sketch of one such device from Bulgaria - a sort of cone within a cone that was supposed to roll the shells off the kernels.
Mr. Brandis decided to try that idea. Here, his years spent working on film crews came in handy.
"In the movies, we're used to making stuff up as we go along," he said. "It's like we jump out of the airplane, and then we invent a parachute on the way down."
A native of the Netherlands, Mr. Brandis was taken to Canada with his parents as a toddler in 1948. As a boy, he played hockey with the descendants of runaway slaves who had left the U.S.A. on the Underground Railroad.
After graduating from McMaster University, Mr. Brandis took a job with Canairelief, a Canadian non-profit that flew food and other supplies into the breakaway republic of Biafra during Nigeria's bloody civil war. He was assigned as a loadmaster on some flights after other aid workers died in a crash. His plane sometimes took off and landed under fire.
"It was kind of like post-traumatic shock in Vietnam," said Mr. Brandis, who wrote about the experience in a novel, The Ship's Cat, published in 2000.
For years, he put the experience behind him, focusing on his movie work. He served as a gaffer (lighting electrician) or lighting designer on dozens of productions, including Scanners, Videodrome, Blue Velvet, Passenger 57 and Serial Mom.
Several of the rooms in his Princess Street home are lined with fake mad-scientist gear left over from the local movie Virus.
In 1985, he relocated to Wilmington to work with producer Dino De Laurentiis and has settled here ever since.
Now, movie-making friends, prop-makers on Black Knight and Domestic Disturbance, helped him fashion his prototype peanut sheller. "They sort of made it on the sly," Mr. Brandis said.
Originally, he thought his sheller might be steel or aluminum. Then a local machine-shop operator, Wes Perry, suggested that he make it from concrete. "Concrete's cheap," he said. "You can get concrete everywhere in the world."
At first, Mr. Brandis pooh-poohed the idea. Then, on a drive downtown, "it dawned on me that he was a genius and I was an idiot," he said.
Pete Klingenberger, a local fiberglass boat-maker, helped him create molds in which to pour cement for the two main parts: a rotating cone, or rotor, and a wider one that held it and stood still, which Mr. Brandis called the stator.
The first model worked, "if you fed it one peanut at a time," he said. If more peanuts were poured in, though, the kernels and crusts tended to build up at the bottom of the rotor and jammed the works.
Mr. Brandis' next idea - the only original one he had, he says - was to turn the stator mold upside-down. That left the extra space needed.
The rotor rolled the nuts at a steadily increasing speed, until kernels and husks fell out the bottom into a waiting tray or pan. The nuts can then be winnowed from the husks by a gentle sifting.
The only problem with this model, Mr. Brandis said, was that "It weighed as much as a Volkswagen." It took a little more tinkering and designing to get the concrete sheller's weight down to 40 kilograms or a little more than 18 pounds.
Last year, Mr. Brandis took his molds back to southern Mali. Working with local blacksmiths near the town of Sikasso, he produced a prototype and field-tested it, working out a few bugs as they went.
Results were encouraging. The sheller could process about a liter of nuts at a time, taking just 20 seconds or so to finish each load.
Designed with a simple, durable hand crank, the sheller can be built with just $10 worth of materials. The only tools needed to make one are the fiberglass molds, a wrench and a rock or piece of wood that can be used as a hammer.
Mr. Brandis estimates that an average machine should last at least 25 years with normal use.
The peanut sheller has drawn the interest of the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada and the Canadian International Development Agency, which cooperated in the filming of Mr. Harbury's documentary.
Mr. Brandis decided not to try to patent his idea. Instead, Coastal Carolina Peace Corps Volunteers, has posted the design on the Internet and has offered help to any non-profit that wishes to experiment with the technology in the developing world. Groups can request more data by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Steelman: 343-2208 or email@example.com.
The Rise of the Peanut
The peanut’s family tree has been traced back to the Andes mountains of Peru or Brazil.
Native Americans have been growing and munching the little legume – which is a true pea, and not a nut – for at least a thousand years. Some peanut-shaped pottery suggests peanuts may have been cultivated for 3,500 years or more.
Peanut growing had reached Mexico by the time of the conquistadors. To reach the U.S., however, historians say the peanut took a long detour.
European traders introduced the peanut to West Africa sometime after contact with the New World. From there, slaves seem to have brought peanut-growing to America.
Crops of “ground peas” or “ground nuts,” as the peanut was known, were reported in South Carolina in 1800 and in Wilmington as early as 1818.
Members of the Foy family, owners of Poplar Grove Plantation, pioneered peanut cultivation in this area.
Until the 1860s, peanuts were looked upon mainly as pig feed, or food for slaves or the poor. The sale of roasted peanuts at P.T. Barnum’s circus, sometime in the early 1870s, helped spread the treat’s popularity.
Not until the early 1900s, though –after George Washington Carver’s discovery of more than 300 potential uses – did the peanut become a major cash commodity.
The Malian Peanut Sheller - What it is and how it works
Read and comment on this information from the Coastal Carolina Returned Peace Corps Volunteer on the Malian Peanut/Groundnut Sheller at:
Malian Peanut/Groundnut Sheller
WHAT IT IS
The Malian Peanut/Groundnut Sheller is a simple machine, requiring less than $10US of materials. It is hand operated and is capable of shelling 50 kilograms of raw, sun-dried nuts per hour. It is made of concrete, poured into two simple fibreglass molds, some primitive metal parts, one wrench and any piece of rock or wood that might serve as a hammer. It accepts a wide range of nut sizes without adjustment. If necessary, adjustment is easily done in seconds. In Mali, it is estimated that one machine will serve the needs of a village of 2000 people. The life expectancy of the machine is around 25 years. Its design is public domain and we expect that local experience will improve the design as time goes by. We offer every possible technical assistance to non-profit groups planning to use this design in their programs. Commercial groups are welcome to use any information provided on this site, free of charge.
HOW IT WORKS
Traditional shelling machines press the nuts through slots to release the kernels from the shell. This works well with nuts roasted in the shell, but poorly if they are sun-dried. The machines are generally made of wood, to close tolerances, by skilled craftsmen. They are expensive, generally require several people to operate and have limited capacity and lifespan. The Malian Sheller, however, rolls the nuts in an ever narrowing space, between two concrete surfaces, at ever increasing speed. The machine is loaded with about a litre of nuts. The handle is then turned quickly for about 20 seconds. The kernels and shell fragments fall into a shallow basket and are winnowed.
In the summer of 2000, an engineer from North Carolina visited a Peace Corps volunteer promoting the increase of protein in children's diets in Southern Mali. Both were unhappy to see the widespread introduction of cotton as a cash cop, and the rapid loss of soil fertility that was already evident. And, at that time there were conversations with the local Women's Co-operative, looking for a more profitable crop to take to market.
The solution to all three concerns was the increase in peanut cultivation. The problem was that, to save fuel, peanuts were traditionally sun-dried, shelled and then roasted. A roasted shell is quite fragile but a sun-dried shell is very tough and difficult to break open by hand. The engineer agreed that, after returning to the States, he would buy and ship an appropriate shelling machine to the village.
His search failed to produce a suitable machine, but with the help of Tim Williams at the University of Georgia (Griffin) and some good folks in Wilmington, North Carolina, the Malian Sheller was invented. Field tests near Sikasso, Mali in 2001 revealed some design and fabrication flaws, which have since been eliminated.
HOW WE CAN HELP YOU
We are the Coastal Carolina Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. We have taken on this project and intend to support any non-profit organization wishing to introduce this technology in any part of the world where peanuts are grown. If the fibreglass technology for mold making is un-available in your area, we will provide molds at our cost. If fibreglass molds can be made in your area, and you wish to bypass the complex process of `plug' making, (plugs are the forms on which the fibreglass is applied), we will lend you plugs in exchange for a cash deposit. We will supply sample sets of metal insert pieces, also at cost, and they can be easily copied by your local welding shops. In return for this support, we ask only that you keep us posted on the progress of your projects and send us some photos of the shellers in action.
Use your "back button" to return
Fully Assembled side view
Stator Sectional View (with dimensions)
Rotor Sectional View (with dimensions)
Commercial groups can make free use of this information and design. If plugs, molds and metal kits are required, they will be available on a `cost plus' basis. Any technical questions in English, French or Spanish can be promptly answered by contacting our email or postal addresses. (Portuguese might take a while.)
For further information contact:
1317 Princess Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Service; Local Groups - North Carolina; COS - Mali
Hey, I'm a 19 year old Canadian and was wondering where I can go to sign up for the Peace Corps. Everywhere I have looked has required U.S citizenship. If anybody has information about this could you please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Thank you