Blacksmiths in Ghana Test New Skills in the Thresher Market

March 8, 2017
Dr. Kerry ClarkFour Ghanaian blacksmiths stand behind the bicycle powered soybean thresher they built during an eight-day Soybean Innovation Lab training workshop.

Akolgo Samson Nyaaba is a blacksmith in the Upper East Region of Ghana. He has a well-established business making and selling donkey plows and carts, chairs and tables for schools, and merry-go-rounds for children. 

With training from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (Soybean Innovation Lab), led by the University of Illinois, Nyaaba now has the skills to grow his business by offering a new product to new customers: threshers for farmers. 

In 2016, Nyaaba and 11 other blacksmiths attended a workshop at the Tamale Implement Factory in Ghana, where they not only learned how to build low-cost, small-scale crop threshers, but also received business training. During the workshop, the blacksmiths constructed three working threshing machines, which were shared with three villages in northern Ghana. 

“It was my first time producing something like that, but it changed my business because now I have a new technology and a new product to market to my customers,” Nyaaba said. 

Most smallholder farmers in Ghana still pull dry mature plants and thresh them by hand to separate the grain from the pods. The work is difficult and time consuming; the grain losses are high; and the resulting quality is poor. A need exists in Ghana and Sub-Saharan Africa for a low-cost, small-scale thresher to harvest crops like soybean. 

New soybean threshers, designed by the Soybean Innovation Lab, work to fill this need and help farmers increase soy production, reduce post-harvest loss and enable them to be more successful as well as profitable. 

The work does not stop with designing a helpful thresher though. Local entrepreneurs like Nyaaba must be interested and capable of constructing this technology and know how to maintain and repair it for their smallholder farmer customers.


Following the workshop, blacksmiths were given capital to build their own working threshers to use as a demonstration model for potential customers. Nyaaba built a pedal-powered thresher, which he can sell for about $500 U.S. dollars. This price is drastically cheaper than the prices of threshers that are larger or imported. Those can cost upwards of about $3,000 U.S. dollars, putting them outside the reach of many smallholder farmers. Nyaaba is in talks with women farmer groups in the upper East Region of Ghana whose members are very interested in purchasing his threshers to use in their communities.  

The workshop afforded another advantage. By bringing together blacksmiths from across northern Ghana to share their experiences, knowledge and skills with others in the same profession, it initiated lasting connections. 

“I met people from all over the three northern regions, some from the Upper West Region, some from the Northern Region, and we still communicate,” Nyaaba said. "One blacksmith is a little far from me, but one is just near me, so sometimes we come together to work. It’s very nice.” 

The Soybean Innovation Lab continues to build an international thresher network and has developed design books, operation manuals and training modules for organizations interested in creating similar workshops. Organizations can contact soybeaninnovationlab@illinois.edu to schedule a workshop in their area.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research is a comprehensive, USAID-funded program hosted at the University of Illinois that is dedicated to soybean research for development. For more information, visit soybeaninnovationlab.illinois.edu.