Purdue Utility Platform

Region: Cameroon, Uganda, Guinea
Purdue Collaborator: Agricultural and Biological Engineering

The Challenge: Smallholder Farmers' Ability to Access Appropriate Technology

Nearly 70 per cent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) live in rural areas and rely mainly on agriculture for livelihood security. Low agricultural productivity in the region keeps this population under constant pressure, even though investment in agriculture is a proven way to reduce regional poverty. Studies have shown that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating outside agriculture. It is therefore necessary to ensure that smallholder farmers are able to access affordable, appropriate technology given their resource constraints. Generations of researchers and practitioners have sought appropriate ways for smallholder farmers to increase their production and productivity, and their ability to add value through secondary processing, A number of technologies have been developed, tested and adopted by smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa, yet not all technologies are appropriate or productive under all conditions.

The Purdue Innovation: The Purdue Utility Platform (PUP)

On August 25, 2017, after five weeks of a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Colombia, Tyler Anselm (Purdue ABE Alum), along with University of Los Llanos (Unillanos) professor Alvaro Ocampo and students, presented the first Colombian-built prototype of the AgRover, a multifunctional agricultural vehicle and an iteration of the Purdue Utility Platform (PUP). The Unillanos Sustainable Tropical Production working group will carry out extension activities to promote the AgRover among small and medium producers in Meta. The assignment also involved the collaboration of professor John Lumkes (ABE) and David Wilson, who returned to Indiana earlier in August.

PIP vehicle in Africa

The project goal is to design an innovative mobile system that can be manufactured, sold, and serviced within the local regions where it is used. The vehicle is built in-country utilizing components and materials readily accessible to that region. The PUP is an adaptable design, allowing for alternative components to be exchanged with minimal impact on the vehicle’s overall design and function. The PUP can provide services such as transportation (people, water, food, supplies, etc.), agricultural tillage and planting, and power for attachments such as maize grinders, water pumps, and electrical generators. The project provides local employment opportunities through a micro-factory producing the vehicles, improved transportation options that provide better access to schools, markets, water, medical care, construction materials, increased time for entrepreneurial activities through reduced the time spent collecting and transporting food, water, and other supplies. Collaboration with international partners guides the development of new capabilities and ensures that local design and manufacturing constraints are met. Several prototypes have been built and tested in Cameroon for verification of the design and concept.

The PUP is designed to carry a payload of 900 kilograms at lower speeds (<40 km/hr), allowing for the use of smaller engines (4-8 kW). These engines are simpler to repair, lighter in weight, carry lower purchase and operating costs, and offer a superior fuel economy (initial testing of a PUP prototype demonstrated fuel economies up to 26 km/L). Manufacturing in-country provides employment and local ownership of the project. The design of the PUP provides much higher loading capacity than motorcycles while not significantly increasing the capital cost, and includes the added benefits of agricultural mechanization, portable power generation, water pumping, and maize grinding. Potential end users include smallholder farmers, small business owners, and municipalities.

Working with our partners, the team built two PUPs in Cameroon by August 2015. In October 2015 Makerere University (Uganda) finished their first PUP and successfully demonstrated it pulling ground tillage and powering a water pump and thresher. Another has since been built. And in February of 2016, a model was built in Guinea. There are now five prototypes in operation and the team has accumulated multiple years of testing and adjusting of the prototypes.

The Partners:

Purdue University, The African Center for Renewable Energy & Sustainable Technology (Cameroon), Makerere University, Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering (Uganda)

John Lumkes, Associate Professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, lumkes@purdue.edu

Makerere University, Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering (Uganda)