Youth economic empowerment through mechanization in Tanzania

In one hour the machine threshes 8 bags of beans, consuming one litre of petrol with a maximum of 3 people to operate.

About one-third of Africa’s nearly 500 million youth aged 15-35 are unemployed. The high rate of youth unemployment remains a critical concern for governments as it results in poor living conditions, is a key driver for migration, and may trigger insecurity and even political instability. Yet, youth are Africa’s greatest asset; they offer a dynamic workforce that is innovative, they have a high uptake of modern technological know-how, and the ability to take on significant levels of risk.

These qualities become apparent when you meet 30-year-old Alfred Chengula, a young charming gentleman who knows his machines too well. He has been working with Imara Tech, a local company based in Tanzania that fabricates multi-crop threshers. “We target to work with up to 2.5 million farmers in places with a huge production. We have done the return on investment for this equipment and I know too well what it means to save Tanzanian farmers 1.3 billion hours threshing every year,” he remarks.

PABRA in collaboration with Soybean Innovation Lab, University of Missouri conducted training with local artisans on multi-crop thresher manufacturing at the beginning of 2019 in Arusha where Alfred, a co-founder of Imara Tech was among the trainees. He was itching to try the new techniques he learned from this training that he put his skills into use and fabricated a multi-crop thresher. It has been a series of trial and error and modification process until he got to a prototype that fits the crops he was testing them for. This passion was so real that since the training to date, Imara Tech has manufactured and sold 42 threshers to 8 districts across the country making a profit of US$ 25,812 (Tsh. 58,800,000) in 6 months. The multi-crop thresher threshes up to 8 crops with the bean is among them. The machine has also been enhanced with a winnower to reduce drudgery in the grain cleaning process. In an hour the machine threshes 8 bags of beans, consuming one litre of petrol with a maximum of 3 people to operate. Normally, it takes 8 people the whole day to beat the beans with clubs and sort 2-3 bags of beans resulting in a cost of up to US$ 35 per day in Manyara region. Overall, the use of thresher has reduced the cost of threshing a 100kg bag of beans by nearly 50% from Tsh 6,500 (manual threshing) to Tsh 3,492. Deploying the multi-crop thresher has not only reduced time and cost but also minimized breakages and contamination thus maintaining clean grain quality. Women who were sought out to clean and sort the grain now have more time to tend to their other businesses.

On average, if one invests in the thresher for service provision to other farms, they are likely to earn up to US$14 per hour through service provisions to farmers. The modified thresher is very portable and can be saddled on a motorcycle and taken from house to house to offer services to farmers during the harvest season. This means more farmers will be reached in close radius enabling youths venturing into threshing business to pay off the cost of the multi-crop thresher in just a single season (3-4 months).

Adoption and use of the multi-crop thresher has significantly contributed towards closing the gender gap exhibited in farm activities, particularly in bean production. Traditionally, bean threshing and winnowing activities were performed by boys and women respectively. Thanks to the convenience and low workforce requirements of the multi-crop thresher, men are getting more attracted to threshing and post-harvest handling of the beans. This has provided time for women to engage in other economically productive and household activities.

To expand its market reach, Imara Tech employed 29 agents in 3 regions of Arusha, Kilimanjaro, and Manyara as demand has grown. The agents are all input suppliers and all have the threshing machines displayed at their agro shops.

The future looks promising for Imara Tech in their expansion plan as they wish to diversify on the range of machinery in their portfolio. For instance, Alfred noticed that the small-sized straws from the thresher are easier to consume by the animals as opposed to manually threshed ones. The company now plans to fabricate a machine that can cut and tie grass and other crop residues for animal feeds. Also, one that can thresh and grind groundnuts and other oil crops. Expanding the market reach is also key. The company will tap into neighboring countries of Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda. They already sold 10 threshers in Uganda. Alfred intends to strengthen his knowledge of investment and management that is an area where he feels he needs more knowledge.

A prominent hallmark of the multi-crop thresher is economic empowerment through the creation of business opportunities, especially for the youth. Service provision – offering threshing services to farmers – creates a direct source of income for young entrepreneurs. On the other hand, each thresher requires three workers – one each to feed the thresher with pods, control the thresher and direct the straw. The multiplier effect is huge in terms of increased household income, increased access to education among others.

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