College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

International Research & Agricultural Development

Featured Interventions RSS feed

Small Scale Threshers & Cleaners

Posted by Levi McGarry | December 3, 2015
Click to Zoom

Farmers with Vogel Thresher, Afghanistan.

In order to process crops grown during research trials, the PFP has several pieces of small mechanized equipment designed to quickly thresh and clean various grains and seeds. Washington State University has a long legacy of innovative mechanization, starting with Orville Vogel (1907-1991), a renowned wheat breeder and researcher. Known best for successfully breeding semi-dwarf wheat varieties which directly contributed to Norman Borlaug’s award-winning research, Vogel made even greater contributions to agriculture through his development of miniaturized machinery designed to harvest and process research plots. His collaboration with Hartman “Bill” Gearhiser, owner of Bill’s Welding in Pullman, spawned several innovative small-scale threshers and cleaners. Many of their inventions are found at experimental farms around the world, assisting the next generation of crop researchers.

Vogel Thresher in Operation

Threshing amaranth with Vogel Thresher

Our particular Vogel Thresher at the Paluthe Farm Project is a unique piece—unlike most models, this one is mostly constructed from aluminum rather than the typical steel. This particular design, a First Generation Vogel Head & Plant Thresher, was introduced in 1955. The faded “State College of Washington” decal on this thresher’s drum cover indicates it was constructed prior to 1959.

Operation of the thresher is straight-forward—harvested crops are fed into the hopper at the top of the thresher. The crop is beaten by the threshing drum and subsequently tumbles into the guide chute. Uncleaned grain is separated from chaff and other waste material by a powerful fan, which ejects the chaff at the rear of the machine while the grain falls into the collecting chute.The Vogel Thresher is quite efficient, but does require fuel and at least two people to safely operate.

Treadle Thresher

Treadle Thresher

In instances where fuel is expensive or unavailable, a treadle thresher can be an effective alternative. Popularized by Amish communities and the back-to-the-land movement, the treadle thresher is foot-operated and can be easily constructed by a competent machinist. Consisting of a foot pedal, a threshing reel, and a winnowing screen, the thresher is designed for family-sized grain plots. When the treadle is pumped, the threshing reel rotates to beat grain from the stalk. Grain falls through to the winnowing screen and is directed to a discharge chute.

Clipper Seed Cleaner

Cleaning amaranth with Clipper Seed Cleaner

Both threshers increase operational speed and decrease the effort needed for grain processing, but neither thresher cleans the grain to its final prepared state. For faster winnowing and grain cleaning, we employ a Clipper M2B Seed Cleaner. This particular seed cleaner is known for its versatility because of its system of interchangeable winnowing screens, allowing for a much broader range of crops to be processed. As uncleaned grain is fed through the hopper, trash and weeds are scalped off. Scalped seeds drop to the second screen, while the scalped trash is ejected to the side chute. Light dust and chaff is forced out by air blast, and choice seed is collected at the bottom of the cleaner.

Using the three machines described above, we processed several research plots of amaranth and proso millet during the fall months of 2015.

Latrines & Latrine Caps

Posted by Levi McGarry | October 22, 2015

Latrine Cap- image created by Michelle Webster

Intestinal illness is the primary cause of death for children in Malawi, and is a major health threat across much of east Africa. Improved sanitation is essential for reducing the spread of disease. Latrines with appropriate caps provide villages with a dedicated, sanitary latrine area away from water sources and food production. Usually a dug hole with cement cap, a wood shed structure on the cap, ash bucket, and an adjacent handwashing station are all you need for a successful system. These “Arborloo” latrines provide sanitary facilities constructed entirely from local materials. They are filled in after one year and trees planted over them. The waste matter will then supply the trees with nutrients throughout their life.

When creating an “Arborloo”, a pit is dug 5 feet deep by 2.5 feet in diameter. A super structure is then constructed around the pit, and concrete covers are created to facilitate pit use. Pits are used in alternating fashion, filling one and then moving along to another. A bucket of soil and ash is kept in the latrine so that a handful of the mixture can be dropped into the pit after each use, reducing odor and accelerating decomposition. When a pit is full, it is covered to cure for six months, after which the decomposed material will be the texture of fine soil and is safe to use as manure, or as planting material for new trees.

WSU extension projects work with communities to distribute education on sanitation and handwashing practices. The results of those efforts have been reductions in illness, reduced transmission of diseases from one person to another and an improved economic capacity of the village. All of the materials needed for construction are purchased from local entrepreneurs, helping to improve the local economy. From the very onset of this innovation, it builds community awareness and empowers further development.

At the Paluthe Farm Project:

Construction of our own demonstration latrine & cap, or “Arborloo”, at the PFP was carried out through the summer of 2015. The volunteer-led project began planning in March, exploring the possibilities of where the latrine could go, if the pit should be lined, how large the pit itself should be, and so on. We ended up deciding on a basic structure over a relatively small, unlined hole, located within the leach-field for the farmhouse.

Latrine, Step OneThe first step was to dig a pit large enough to Step Two: Finishing the Brick Apron for the Latrine Capaccommodate our needs—in this case, we created a pit for a two-person household for six months. Once the hole was dugthe ground immediately around the hole was leveled and bricked to create a solid apron for the latrine cap.

Cap Mold OneCap Mold TwoTo create the latrine cap, we excavated a concrete mold in the ground itself, digging until we’d created a 4’ diameter circle approximately 4” deep. We then leveled and smoothed the bottom of latrine cap (3.1)our mold, wetting down the dirt slightly and tamping it flat. Two layers of hardware cloth cut into the appropriate dimensions and shape were placed in the mold to create structure and hold within our finished cap. We then mixed and poured two bags of concrete into the circle mold, smoothing out the top surface as it immediately cured.latrine cap (3.2)

After seven days of curing, we pried the cap out of its earthen mold and rolled it on top of the brick apron. Some adjustment was required to level out how the cap sat on the apron, but once steady, our latrine & cap was ready to be structurally surrounded. We created a temporary surround for fall 2015, and plan to build a permanent latrine structure in 2016.

Filed under Featured Interventions, tagged ,

Treadle Pump

Posted by Levi McGarry | October 18, 2015
Treadle pump used in South Eastern Africa and Tanzania

Treadle Pump- image created by Michelle Webster

A treadle pump operates by manually pumping water for irrigation from shallow wells or streams to a high point on a farm. Deploying a manually-operated treadle pump allows farmers to store water or direct it via gravity through channels or pipes to the crops.

Small scale irrigation through use of a treadle pump can significantly increase income during the African dry season, essentially creating the opportunity for a second crop. A second growing season increases food security, improves family nutrition, and supplements farm income. The effective irrigation method also promotes farming as a business enterprise and builds capacity for further sustainability efforts. More consistent economic activity in the local community throughout the year, as opposed to a large infusion during three weeks of PFP Treadle Pump: Close-Uptypical harvest, enables communities to steadily grow and thrive. WSU projects have trained community groups of farmers on how to apply the pump to their farming practices and how to increase their market income.

At the Paluthe Farm Project:


Treadle to Garden (Illustrated)

Underground Irrigation from Treadle Pump to Upper Garden (illustrated by orange line)

PFP Treadle Pump w/ WellThe Money Maker Treadle Pump is one of the irrigation demonstrations set up at the PFP.It is used to model two types of irrigation techniques commonly applied using the pump in developing countries—flood and sprinkler irrigation.The treadle pump draws water from our southernmost well and pushes it to our small vegetable garden approximately 150 feet away (lifting vertically approximately 20 feet). With relatively very little effort (as compared to carrying buckets of water by hand up the hill), the treadle pump can push water through a garden sprinkler to disperse moisture or can flood prepared plots.

Filed under Featured Interventions, tagged ,

Mud Stove Kits

Posted by Levi McGarry |
Three Stone Fire

A Three Stone Fire


Single Chamber Mud Stove


Double Chamber Mud Stove

Malawians typically cook using a three-stone fire pit. This is an inefficient use of sparse wood resources, and the unventilated cooking smoke indoors can cause health problems. Previous WSU projects have encouraged the adoption of fuel-efficient stoves for households in eastern Africa, specifically Malawi. These stove designs vent smoke more efficiently and reduce the amount of wood needed for cooking by 50%. Community education on stove design and construction, along with purchasing materials from local entrepreneurs, has helped families reduce health problems brought on by the smoke, particularly lung and eye ailments. Since less wood is needed for daily use, concerns about deforestation are addressed, and women and girls can apply the labor savings from reduced wood collection to other tasks, such as education.

At the Paluthe Farm Project:

IDC Members & Rocket StoveAnnalise & Rocket StoveIn February 2015, five members of the WSU International Development Club came out to the Paluthe Farm Project to construct our model Rocket Stove. After reading over the plans, the students mixed mortar and used bricks to create the stove structure. Mortar was applied on the exterior to finish the stove.


UNIV 497 & Rocket Stove

Attempting to cook porridge using the PFP Rocket Stove

In September 2015, eight students from WSU’s Global Leadership class 20150926_univ497testsspent the day on the farm learning about manual labor on global smallholder farms. As part of their activities, they agreed to record efficiency data from our model stove. Three different teams attempted to boil two pints of water using the stove, recording the chamber temperature and water temperature at regular intervals. The Paluthe Farm Project is pursuing additional opportunities to feature and display other stove designs used internationally.

International Research & Agricultural Development, PO Box 646243, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-6243, 509-335-2985, Contact Us
© 2017 Washington State University | Accessibility | Policies | Copyright | Log in