Pearl millet is a highly nutritious staple cereal, produced on small farms by millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. The plant requires no irrigation and can grow in the harshest conditions.
But threshing and separating the edible grains from the panicle is a slow and labor-intensive process. Practices vary by region and ethnicity of the farmers, but in general women do the work of extracting the grain by hand, with repeated cycles of pounding and winnowing.
An additional challenge of this project is that pearl millet varies widely in its shape and physical behavior based on land race and growing conditions. For example, Namibian pearl millet panicles are much thicker than those available for experimentation in Massachusetts, and Nigerian panicles are much longer.
When the time and energy cost of threshing and winnowing the millet is reduced, it also reduces the health burdens and stress placed on the women responsible for the task. We aim to make a thresher with a low cost and simple design, in order to make a universal improvement to the processing of an important and nutritious crop that has the potential to improve global food security.