No, they aren’t joining the Tour de France or becoming Urban Bike Messengers, they’re using a bike-powered, portable threshing machine that could revolutionize farming in Ethiopia and help alleviate poverty for thousands of farmers across the country.

Thresher_t730Threshers traditionally are large, expensive farming machines used to separate grain from stalks. Although they were introduced in the 18th century, most Ethiopian farmers still use the old-fashioned method of separating grains by hand because they can’t afford large machines.

Using the old-fashioned method, it takes five people and four cattle 14 hours to produce only two pounds of grain. Using the new bike thresher, it takes only two people four hours to produce that same amount.

Ethiopian farmers will use the threshers to produce teff, a nutritious grain grown by about 6.5 million farmers across Ethiopia. Despite the large number of farmers growing the grain, the inefficient threshing makes it such a low-yielding crop that Ethiopia has banned its export.

The thresher was designed and prototyped by several students at San Diego State University’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center. Michael Sloan, the Center’s Director, says the portable thresher has the potential to help Ethiopia by creating jobs, empowering women, increasing food production, and keeping children in school rather than working in the field.

Sloan’s former student, Gemechu Abraham, who was born in Ethiopia, saw a need for it during a 2012 visit to where his family once lived. “In my village, I noticed very outdated farming techniques,” said Abraham. “When I went back to the states, I was thinking of ways to change the circumstances, but being a broke college kid, I didn’t have a lot of funds to send back home.”

He met Dominick Polese, and others, through the center. Together, they developed the prototype and formed the social enterprise W.E. Do Good to market the technology.

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W.E. Do Good has big plans to ready the bike thresher for production in Ethiopia by the end of this year. Looking at the market, they believe they will sell over 250 threshers in their first year, and rent about 3,000 more. Our Ethiopia REVIVE program is helping W.E. Do Good obtain grants for the prototype and garner support from the Ethiopian government.

Once farmers realize the value gained from using this technology, and how much their incomes can increase, W.E. Do Good doesn’t think it will take long to scale up distribution and use.

As you bike to work today, powering your own workday, just think about what that pedaling can do for Ethiopian farmers.