Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Compatible Technology International Helps Women Grind out Poverty

Pearl millet, one of the most extensively cultivated cereals in the world and a key staple crop in the African Sahel, is particularly important to the food security of smallholder farmers in arid regions. Yet virtually all of West Africa’s almost 4 million pearl millet farmers still use the mortar and pestle for processing the grain into flour. While men handle the planting and harvesting, women grind the pearl millet with traditional tools that are inefficient, time consuming, and result in postharvest losses.

Photo Credit: CTI

In 2013, with support from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, Compatible Technology International (CTI), a nonprofit organization that designs and distributes postharvest processing tools for smallholders, introduced its pearl millet tools in Senegal. The original set of tools included a manually operated thresher, stripper, winnower, and grinder, which proved too cumbersome for smallholder farmers to use. With the help of an industrial designer, CTI’s team held farmer focus groups, with special attention to women’s feedback. As a result, they combined the grain stripper, thresher, and winnower into a less expensive, more compact single unit that was easier for women to turn, even while carrying babies in slings on their backs. The thresher alone increases production rates and allows the women to capture more than 95 percent of the grain without breaking it. During this process, CTI also learned that some communities were using its grinder component for groundnuts, so it began selling the grinder as a standalone unit to women’s groups. For example, Aissatou Ly, a 46-year-old entrepreneur, uses the grinder to sell peanut butter in the local market, saying, “The grinder is simple. It’s durable, and I don’t need help to fix it or gas to run it.”

Meanwhile, CTI also explored partnerships with local companies with the goal of moving manufacturing from China to Sengal. Now working with a Senegalese firm, Pene et Fils, they have further improved the thresher’s design, reduced the price, and created local jobs. Next CTI plans to promote the thresher to help women farmers, who comprise 90 percent of the customer base in more than 1,000 communities, supply processed millet to national feeding programs, as well as start other related businesses. As the market for this thresher increases, it has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of smallholders in Senegal and to expand throughout West Africa. Alexandra Spieldoch, CTI’s executive director says, “What we are achieving in Senegal, I believe, is CTI’s model for growth. I want to see it developed and replicated. I am inspired by the potential of it all.” 

Watch CTI’s pearl millet tools in action on the AgTechXChange and listen to Partnering for Innovation’s Tech Talk on Investing in Women through Mechanization featuring Alexandra Spieldoch.