The work of an applied design professor and her students at Hampshire College may result in a greater yield and more efficient preparation of one of the dietary staples of sub-Saharan Africa.
Donna Cohn learned about the challenges of threshing pearl millet when a former student, Aaron Wieler 01F, described eating the grain in Namibia. “He was told to chew without bringing his teeth together because the cereal contained small rocks and grit,” she said.
Since that 2007 conversation, Professor Cohn has researched pearl millet and looked for ways to produce a cleaner, purer product. “I’m fascinated by the challenges of designing for low-resource settings,” she said.
She talked with USDA officials. She collaborated with colleagues and students at the Hampshire College Farm Center to grow pearl millet on campus. She integrated the development of a small threshing machine into design courses, and took the project to the International Design for Development Summit. Preliminary field-testing in Mali and Ghana was encouraging, but the design was nowhere near ready for dissemination.
Professor Cohn’s efforts got a big boost November 20 when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that her concept received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant. The grants fund “innovative ideas to tackle persistent global health and development problems.”
The Gates grant will enable Cohn to focus on refining the threshing machine. This will include analyzing volume potential, trying various power sources for speed, considering methods to keep costs low, and extending international field-testing. Many of Cohn’s Hampshire students share her commitment to creating design solutions in a world hungry for change. Those in one of her spring courses will tackle the project’s further development with her.
The Gates Foundation announcement described the Grand Challenges Explorations grants as “designed to foster the most innovative ideas to save the lives of the world’s poorest people.” Cohn’s project is one of 81, from 14 countries, chosen from more than 2,700 proposals in a blind-selection process. Funded projects address a wide range of issues in five broad areas, and Cohn’s is in the area of “Labor Saving Innovations for Women Smallholder Farmers.” Traditionally, women and children thresh pearl millet, she said.
The threshing machine not only could improve production in the small-farm communities it’s designed for, but also holds potential to become an entrepreneurial venture for them, creating a local business and jobs, Cohn said.
Applied Design? What is that an oxymoron? Also what’s up with all this “anti-spam” stuff, seems kind of silly since I don’t imagine this site getting a lot of traffic.
why are we doing this HERE instead of providing the people who ACTUALLY USE THESE THINGS the resources to help them design and implement it for themselves instead of this white savior bullshit
Before you go criticizing your fellow students and professors at Hampshire, I implore you to educated yourself on the project in question. You are saying why are we not “providing the people who ACTUALLY USE THESE THINGS the resources to help them design and implement it for themselves.” When in fact, that is EXACTLY what we are doing with this project. Please feel free to email me at htc11, if you are interested in learning more about the project or have any further concerns about this being “white savior bullshit.”
Where are the designs for the machine?