The Multi-Crop Thresher (MCT) is a portable, mechanized threshing machine that threshes staple cereal crops up to 75 times faster than traditional methods, saving smallholder farmers time and labor and helping them capture greater value from their farms by reducing losses. The MCT is a new product by Tanzania-based start-up Imara Tech, which fabricates MCTs in regionally distributed workshops and markets them to entrepreneurs that use the MCT to start new agribusinesses in their communities.
At a Glance
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On April 25, Imara Tech pitched to COSTECH (Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology) and was one of six ventures selected to receive funding! Imara Tech will receive 5 million TSh (~2300 USD) to fund their activities in the upcoming months - thanks COSTECH!
Imara Tech also recently expanded it's team, welcoming Alfred Chengula as a co-founder. Alfred comes to the team with a background in sales and business, and most recently led a sales team for Off Grid Electric. Alfred will join Imara Tech in May, when the first MCTs will be shipped to Mbeya, Tanzania.
Speaking of the MCT, all 10 were recently moved out of the Twende Social Innovation Center to a private workshop, which can provide the space and resources to ready the machines for their shipments in May.
How does your innovation work?
The MCT is a simple-to-use machine: users simply pour un-threshed grain into the machine, and cleaned, threshed grain is expelled to be collected and sacked.
Under the hood of the MCT, more is going on. The crops that are poured into the machine enter a chamber where a rotating drum, powered by a small 6.5 HP petrol engine, beats the grain until it is removed from the stalks. The threshed crops are propelled axially through the machine until they are expelled, whereas the threshed grain and chaff fall below into another chamber, where a blower removes the chaffe. The threshed grain leaves the MCT through a chute at the base, where it can be put into sacks for storage or sale.
One of the MCT’s key innovations was making the machine easily portable, as this allows the MCT to be brought directly to farmers fields’ during harvest time. The MCT’s size enables it to be carried on the back of a motorcycle (the best way to get around the rough roads in rural Tanzania) and has small design features that allow it to be easy to strap on to common motorcycle racks.
Another key innovation of the MCT is that it is a multi-crop thresher as opposed to a single-crop thresher. Because the MCT is designed for entrepreneurs that operate the machine as a business, we wanted to allow our customers to reach the biggest market possible. Thus, the machine was designed to accommodate the most commonly grown crops: maize, rice, sorghum, and barley. The MCT achieves it’s multi-crop functionality through simplicity - simply swap out a single modular component to switch from one crop to the next.
Imara Tech provides the MCT through a business model that focuses on being local. We use a distributed manufacturing model, meaning we set up small workshops around Tanzania, so that we can save on transportation costs, create jobs, and also facilitate servicing, repairs, and trainings. Our sales are done with the help of existing organizations specializing in last-mile distribution or selling inputs to farmers, lending us the strength of their trusted local farmer networks. And because we're relatively close to our users, we’ll be able to easily cater and adapt to customer demands, which will allow us to do things such as provide marketing materials that assist entrepreneurs in starting a threshing business or make design changes to suit customers' changing needs. This is something that largeforeign factories cannot compete with and something that local organizations have not taken advantage of.
What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?
The MCT has been field tested numerous times throughout Tanzania, with many different users and many different crops. During our most recent field test, the MCT shelled a smallholder farmer’s 10 sacks (1000kgs) of maize in 24 minutes - a huge improvement over the 30 tiresome hours that would have been required using traditional methods.
Although our first sales won't happen until May, we have a list of customers whose demands we canot currently meet. To us, this is a form of evidence - the farmers whose are the intended end-users of the machine are signing up to buy it because they see how it can improve their lives. When they learn about the MCT, they tell us the different ways it can improve their lives: by reducing opportunities for crop spoilage, by saving them time and labor, by giving them cleaner grain so that they can sell their crops at a premium. We hear the same stories from organizations outside of Tanzania too: farmers across East Africa want a better threshing method.
We also are confident because our customers, rural entrepreneurs looking to start a small, are interested in buying the machine. They see a big business opportunity for themselves because they believe this is a service their community wants. Their eagerness to start a threshing business with the MCT gives us confidence that every machine we sell will be used often, thereby creating and spreading positive social impact.
This summer will be the first time that the MCT will be sold to customers and used unsupervised by the Imara Tech team, and we plan to use that time to carefully measure its true impact on farmers. We have one researcher joining us from UC Davis that will be spending a month speaking with farmers and MCT owners, and we have identified two entrepreneurs who will be providing us with regular usage reports in exchange for assistance in purchasing the machines.
Do you have current users or testers?
Because the MCT's testing periods are limited to the harvest season, which typically runs for a couple of months between late May and August, we currently do not have any active users. As mentioned before, we plan to make our first sales in May and then will have 15 MCTs being used and monitored in the field.
What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?
To scale up the usage and sales of the MCT, Imara Tech plans to establish workshops in major agricultural hubs throughout Tanzania. These hubs will fabricate MCTs, service existing machines that are in need of repairs, act as a showroom for potential buyers, and hold stock to be sold before the harvest season.
Sales of the MCT will happen with the assistance of partner organizations that have established networks with farmers in rural areas, either specializing in last-mile distribution or in selling inputs to farmers. We have already begun discussions with two organizations that fit these criteria and are in communication with them on how we can work together as Imara Tech scales.
One of the things that our users have demanded is assistance with financing: although the MCT can earn users up to $12 per hour and therefore be paid off over the course of the harvest season, the upfront cost is daunting to certain farmers. User’s want financial assistance when purchasing, and also need a warranty to cover the expected payback period of the product. To promote adoption, we’re offering both. The warranty and repairs will be covered by Imara Tech using our technicians based out of our workshops, and we plan to cover the financing through a partner organization: we have already identified one potential partner that offers three year financing on equipment purchases, which we believe will be a very promising partnership for both organizations and will enable us to reach a broader customer-base.
Through our distributed manufacturing model and with the help of strong partnerships for distribution and financing, Imara envisions expanding its presence and serving the estimated 110 million smallholder farmers throughout East Africa.
In the next year, Imara Tech plans to:
Sell the first round of 15 MCTs
Gather data on the MCT’s usage and its social impact
Raise investment for the upcoming year
Establish the first workshop unit and begin production of MCTs for 2017
Finalize partnerships with distribution and finance partners