Monday, October 3, 2022

Guest contributor series: Part II of Wilmington-based non-profit’s work in Africa [Free read]


Editor’s Note: The following is part of a series written by Anthony ‘Tony’ Peele, a social entrepreneur who co-founded Swahili Coast with his wife Caroline and a volunteer and board member of the Full Belly Project.

Peele recently embarked on a trip to work on projects for both groups in Zambia and Tanzania. And, while southern Africa is certainly out of Port City Daily’s coverage area, the groups doing work there are proudly based in Wilmington. Port City Daily is partnering with Peele to offer a first-hand look at that work.

I’ve arrived in Chipata, Zambia. Chipata is a short nine-hour bus ride to the eastern corner of Zambia, close to the borders of Malawi and Mozambique. This is my first time in Zambia, but at first glance, Eastern Zambia doesn’t seem too different from Malawi, where I’ve been a few times – mud-brick huts and thatch farm roofs line the countryside until you hit the city limits–giving way to rows of concrete stalls of vendors (with the occasional pub advertising upcoming English Premier League soccer games).

Part One: Follow Wilmington-based non-profit on a mission to Africa [Free read]

I’m in Chipata to volunteer on a Full Belly Project grant project here. The Full Belly Project is a Wilmington non-profit that creates innovative technological solutions to global problems. I’m here to advance our project to simultaneously eliminate a cancer-causing toxin found in peanut harvests and raise farmer’s income by linking them to markets for higher quality peanuts.

At one point, Chipata was a major exporter of peanuts to South Africa. However, in the 80s and 90s, European and American economies began to regulate aflatoxin levels in food. aflatoxin is a toxin that is formed from a mold that grows on peanuts at certain humidity levels. Chipata lost its demand for groundnuts, so prices waned. To try and reboot this supply chain, Full Belly created a program to educate farmers on the importance of managing humidity levels in the peanut crop while in storage to prevent the spread of aflatoxin. In March, Jock and Amanda of Full Belly spent a few weeks working with the Chipata District Farmers Association (CDFA) on the program and made site visits to train farmers, and now I’m here to follow up on the testing methodology.

Today, I met with Virgil Malambo, the CDFA coordinator. Virgil leads the CDFA by representing his constituent group of 4,000 farmers in political matters. Think of him as the farmer ombudsman – he’s able to coordinate different government agencies, international donors and private markets to support farmers. Virgil is a valuable partner for Full Belly – when we find or create new technologies we have to find partners to implement them, and Virgil is an ideal partner given his experience and network in the agricultural community in Zambia. Since March of this year, Virgil has been training roughly 150 farmers on how to manage aflatoxin in their crops using Full Belly Project technologies.

The technologies used are:

  • The Universal Nut Sheller – A peanut sheller invented by Full Belly Project founder Jock Brandis.
  • The Drycard – A reusable humidity testing paper card invented by a team at UC Davis that allows farmers to test the moisture level in food crops using only the card and small plastic bag.
  • The Mobile Assay M Reader – A high tech assay (testing procedure) created by a tech company in Colorado. The M Reader is able to measure aflatoxin levels in food crops using a tablet camera. A test that normally costs $750, we can now do on the farm for only $5.

This is a huge leap that offers huge potential! It means that if we can get farmers to grow aflatoxin free peanuts and prove to traders that the nuts are marketable for export to Europe, then we drastically improve health and nutrition in the region, and potentially fetch a much higher price for the nuts, which is value that gets passed on to the farmer. There are a lot of steps to go from A to B, but that is the theory that motivates our work.

In my meeting today with Virgil and CDFA, we finalized our strategy for data collection for this year’s grant program. As an organization, we can’t just throw our technologies out into the world and hope for the best. We have to evaluate what is effective and what needs to be improved. So today, we decided what data we will collect from our farmer participants and how we are going to conduct the aflatoxin testing using the Mobile Assay M Reader.

Today, after a long day of meetings and setting up test equipment, I’m now retired to my room at the hotel for a shower and am due for a long sleep. Tomorrow’s a big day, where we hit the field and meet with farmer participants.

You can follow along with my travels at @Anthony_Peele on Instagram

Find more information about Full Belly Project online.

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