Jock Brandis is the founder and research and development director of Full Belly Project, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that develops agricultural productivity tools. Jock began designing tools to solve development problems following a 2001 trip to Mali where he noticed the difficulty of shelling sun-dried peanuts. He promised to send a solution, only to find that no effective tool had been invented. He set about inventing the Universal Nut Sheller, which can be made anywhere from basic materials and shells peanuts 95% faster than hand-shelling.
National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International recruited Jock and Full Belly volunteer Randy Shackelford to help implement an USAID-funded project to address aflatoxin in peanuts. Their assignment was to teach a farming cooperative in Chipata, Zambia, how to prevent aflatoxin, a chemical that causes severe health consequences and keeps Zambian peanut products out of the European Union market. But their interest in solving the peanut aflatoxin problem has led them to go far beyond their original assignment.
Upon arriving, they saw that farmers were already employing good aflatoxin prevention practices. It didn’t take long to realize that the script they had arrived with wasn’t the right one. They set up the first-ever aflatoxin testing tailgate, using a portable on-the-spot test kit on farmers’ fields. All but one of the samples they tested registered levels well within EU export standards, however the peanut butters for sale locally did not. They concluded that the fungus is introduced during collection or processing, where a few contaminated peanuts can infect the whole supply. They trained the government lab director and technicians to use the test kit and left it with the local lab. The technicians are following Jock and Randy’s example and taking the test kits to farms rather than making farmers mail samples to the lab. This change delivers test results within 15 minutes rather than 3-4 weeks, letting both farmers and buyers know which peanuts are marketable so that contaminated products can be kept out of the food supply.
Jock and Randy advised farmers on concerns beyond aflatoxin, particularly drought, by introducing an effective, easy-to-use pump and discussing seed selection and planning for hotter, drier weather. They taught three cooperative members to make the Universal Nut Sheller so that members can more readily sell their produce.
Jock and Randy have stayed engaged to move testing forward. The pair is determined to develop an “aflatoxin safe certification” for Zambia and, ultimately, to re-establish Zambia’s groundnut export market. They have already returned to begin testing an ozone generator, which they hope will help rid the local food supply of aflatoxin fungus.
Between visits they stay in touch with farmers. Nearly 5,000 Facebook followers and friends have learned about Chipata and Jock and Randy’s work there through their postings and local communication outreach.
We were there to teach farmers how to grow safe peanuts, only to discover they were already doing it … We had to suddenly, on the fly, change our message.
– Jock Brandis, volunteer