CNN Heroes: Peanut Farmers Get a Big Hand from Simple Device

Friday, March 7, 2008

In 2002, Brandis was helping a friend repair a water treatment system in a Mali, Africa, village. There, he encountered a woman whose hands were bleeding from shelling peanuts to support her family — and this was not uncommon.

In Africa alone, women spend 4 billion hours a year shelling peanuts by hand, according to the Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program.

“A sun-dried peanut is like a little rock. It’s that hard,” says Brandis. “Cracking the shells takes hours of effort for the village women who traditionally do the chore, and it often leaves their hands bloody.”

Brandis promised the women in the village he would return in a year with a machine to speed the shelling. That turned out to be easier said than done.

“When I went back to America, it didn’t exist,” recalls Brandis.

So he started asking around.

“I didn’t know much about peanuts, so I guess I did what any Canadian with a question about peanuts would do. I wrote Jimmy Carter,” Brandis said.

Through former President Jimmy Carter’s library, Brandis tracked down an expert who suggested he look at a sketch from a Bulgarian scientist. Brandis attempted to replicate the sketch, but it didn’t work. Having tinkered and toiled with “gizmos” as a former gaffer in the film industry, Brandis set out to make a peanut sheller himself.

After fiddling, cranking and grinding his way through a number of prototypes in his Wilmington, North Carolina, studio, Brandis developed a simple machine that could shell nuts up to 50 times faster than by hand. Designed with a simple, durable hand crank, the “universal nut sheller” could be built with $28 worth of materials.

To give this “gift to the world,” Brandis joined forces with a group of former Peace Corps volunteers and co-founded the Full Belly Project in 2003, a nonprofit organization dedicated to designing and distributing technologies like the universal nut sheller. Brandis travels with others to developing countries to show local shellers how to use and make the machines themselves.

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Source: CNN (link opens in a new window)