Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Final Tests and Educational Discussions

The 28th has come to greet us so quickly, as it feels like just yesterday we were climbing off the plane in Malawi. It has been such an amazing journey; where new friends were made, new stories were recorded, and traditional values of hard work and trust helped tear down cultural borders. The travel team has been so grateful for this experience, and we know there is still work to be done.

The team began the day with the electric maize mill, visiting for more of a detailed insight on how maize currently is ground inside these electric mills. Recognizing the improvements that our Bicycle Powered Maize Mill can achieve, we wanted to begin back at square one, to be sure we were considering all possibilities. Here is a look at the inside of the electric maize mill:

When reanalyzing the current design, we noticed a distinct difference in one of the main components: the grinding mechanism. What the team has successfully developed on this trip is a power delivery system that drives a rotating shaft. This in itself is very versatile, which is good news for us in further iterating the grinding mechanism of the Bicycle Powered Maize mill. It was interesting to see how it all worked from an insider perspective. Good things to keep in mind as we improve upon the maize mill going forward.

Moving on to Joseph’s house, we exchanged a couple borrowed tools and materials, and were soon on our way back to the community to run some tests and discuss remaining goals, but not before snagging this picture with all the fierce puppies trying to attack Joseph.

Arriving in the community, we got some things together to have another productive day. First, we wanted to perform some testing to see if beans and nuts may have a different result when put through our mill. The community uses flour from soy beans, pinto beans, and ground nuts (peanuts) for different types of relish to mix with their nsima, so we decided to send them through the mill and see what turned out.

The soy beans ground into fine particles, not quite small enough for flour, the pinto beans crushed into particles and some flour, and the ground nuts mashed into a sort of paste, literally peanut butter consistency (and didn’t taste half bad)! These were fair results, as we now know the common denominator is the groove size in the plates. Once modifications are made to the plate surface, we are confident this mill will operate properly.

Once testing was wrapped up for the day, the team wanted to sit down with community members on more of a one-on-one basis to learn about their personal experiences. This is a particularly enjoyable part of the trip, as we are always fascinated by the responses we hear from people around Kumponda. Learning more about each of them helps us better understand the severity and common nature of these challenges they face. Once wrapping up the small group discussions, it was time to turn it over to the committee to close out the day.    

This community meeting is a critical one. It is important for us to convey to the community leaders that we are not done thinking about them. We are not finished working together to help them develop out of their daily struggles. We certainly are not at ends with the Bicycle Maize Mill. With Jarvis’ help, it was nice to be able to sit down with the committee and make these points, while always encouraging that they hold the knowledge and skills now to create this thing on their own. Their confident responses and heads held high were empowering reminders that we did the best job possible throughout this project to transfer the ownership and teach these motivated people about the idea we have for a sustainable solution to food security challenges.

We hope to speak with more members of the community tomorrow to learn even more about them, but for now I will sign off. Thanks again to everyone for your support, and another huge shout out to the amazing Cal Poly EWB teams out there.

Keep fightin’ the good fight,



  1. Great post, Spencer!

    Dave (Cate's dad)

  2. Interesting about the different grains/ beans/ nuts used. Sounds like the community will source a thicker plate and create the deeper grooves needed to get the flour consistency they need and can implement following the CP EWB Malawi Team's counsel.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the community challenges and needs that the team can assist on future efforts.

    Travel safe... We are proud of the work you all are doing and happy you were rewarded with passionate hard working committed and joyful people which open eyes to a bigger brighter world!