About a half-million people rely on peanuts as their primary source of protein, and peanuts are a powerful cash crop in 108 countries. Women in Africa spend four billion hours per year opening the nuts by hand, often waking up before sunrise to start shelling in countries like Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan, which has the world’s highest peanut per capita ratio (Source: Popular Mechanics). Jock Brandeis, a native of North Carolina, invented the Universal Nut Sheller (UNS) to solve this problem. This simple, inexpensive machine can shell nuts up to 40 times faster than a person can by hand. Jock started the Full Belly Project, an NGO that builds these peanut shellers and distributes them to developing countries that rely heavily on peanuts.
Duke EWB partnered with the Full Belly Project to bring the UNS technology to Uganda. In the summer of 2007, a team of Duke students brought a sheller to the Rural Agency of Sustainable Development (RASD) in Nkokonjeru. RASD invited peanut and coffee farmers to come learn more about the UNS and spread its use. During the subsequent academic year at Duke, an EWB project team worked on a design iteration of the UNS designed specifically for husking coffee cherries. The goal for the design work was to lower the price of the UNS as to be more affordable to individual coffee farmers. Small coffee farmers typically pay middlemen to process their coffee, as they cannot afford expensive, mechanized processing facilities. If small farmers had a way to process their own coffee they could add value to their crop and earn higher profits.
During the Fall 2007 and Spring 2008 semester, the Universal Nut Sheller team worked on a new design iteration to create a machine specialized for coffee processing. The design process has centered around creating a new machine using plastic trash bins as molds. The idea was inspired by Rob Pridgen. The team has also been working in close collaboration with Roey Rosenblith of Village Startup. During the summer of 2008, members from the Universal Nut Sheller team traveled to Nkokonjeru, Uganda under DukeEngage funding. The plastic bin molds were imported separately and the rest of the materials were acquired locally. A prototype coffee sheller was built on-site and tested; however, the project was already moving in a different direction in light of new developments. The project team discovered that there was already a great deal of coffee processing infrastructure in place in the Nkokonjeru area. Two large-scale processors, which were capable of shelling several tons of coffee per day, offered very reasonable prices per kilo of coffee in various stages of processing. Because of the relatively high capital costs of the coffee processor as well as the new management and infrastructure needed to manufacture or distribute these machines, the project team decided to pursue widespread adoption of the established large-scale coffee processors by the individual coffee farmers. To meet this end, project team members called meetings with farmers of the several parishes in the Nkokonjeru area. RASD officials discussed with farmers the possibility of forming coffee associations – autonomous groups of farmers, sharing best practices and leveraging coffee processors for better prices. Members also contacted the National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE), a national union that has played a pivotal role in the formation and growth of similar coffee associations in other regions of Uganda. The director of NUCAFE, Joseph Nkandu, also spoke at the meetings. Currently design work on the coffee sheller has been tabled in favor of supporting the coffee associations.