The Desert SeedBall

Helping millions of poor small farmers living in desert areas.

By Sylvain Picker

According Charles Nwankwo, a researcher at the German University of Hohenheim, Seedballs have the potential to improve the conditions of millions of small farmers living in arid areas near the African Sahara desert.

They are carrying out an ambitious Seedballs test program with 3000 farmers. In the very difficult conditions of the Sahel countries, the University of Hohenheim managed to increase by 30% the yields of Millet crops (the only cereal that survive in desertic areas), while at the same time reducing the workload for the farmers.

Production of Seedballs is also seen as an opportunity to create small business for African women, because Seedballs can be made outside of the farming season, while there is less work.

There is however a lack in the tooling needed to manufacture Seedballs. This type of tool must be very inexpensive, and adapted to the almost total lack of access of modern technology for these peoples. The easiest way to make Seedballs is to roll them by hand, that way it is possible to make a few hundred per day. One way to produce large quantities is to use a cement mixer. But there is a lot of problems with this method. Two of the main problems is that it is very very difficult to control the size of the Seedballs and the quantity of seeds in each of them.

The University of Hohenheim is desining new tools to make Seedballs

Working with unskilled local farmers they targeted bringing tools down to almost its possible flat level (as simple as possible), especially for the female farmers that they would like to bring back into crop production. They have two tool sortes: male and female tools. The male tool is the bigger one while the female tools are the smaller ones. The seedballs are either fabricated in cubic (only the female tools) or cylindrical (both) shapes. However, the shapes are less important as the main target is that seeds emerge from the inside of the balls.

Photo: Hohenheim University