NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unlikely Contraption Raises Living Standards in Mali

July 26, 2002

Progress sometimes arrives in unusual forms. In 300 villages in the African country of Mali, it arrived in the form of what has been described as an industrial-sized Cuisinart -- a milling and grinding machine often used to make peanut butter.

Rather than having to spend a whole day pounding and grinding peanuts by hand, the women of the villages spend the equivalent of 25 cents to buy 10 minutes of the machine's time to produce a dozen jars of peanut butter which they can sell on the open market.

A number of benefits flow from the diesel-powered machines.

  • Girls who had once been kept at home to help with the domestic work from dawn to dusk are now going to school.
  • Mothers and grandmothers who would have spent a lifetime pounding and grinding now have the free time to take literacy courses and start up small businesses -- or expand family farming plots and nurture a cash crop such as rice.
  • The training to prepare the women to manage the machine usually takes four to six months -- and leaves them with the basics in reading, writing and arithmetic, skills they can improve with later courses in these and other subjects.
  • The machine -- which can also husk grains such as rice and cut wood -- was invented in the 1990s by a Swiss development worker in Mali and tailored for rural Africa.

It formerly took three days to manually grind a 100-pound bag of corn. Now the machine, nicknamed "the daughter-in-law who doesn't speak," can accomplish the process in 15 minutes.

The machine presents a cornucopia of other benefits: money to build a village well, power for electric lighting and the optimism to branch out into other businesses -- such as dyeing clothes and making soap.

Source: Roger Thurow, "Makeshift 'Cuisinart' Makes a Lot Possible in Impoverished Mali," Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2002.


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