MITO: How a Nut Cracking Bicycle is Empowering Farmers in Nepal

Valentina Triet
A converted bicycle helps to crack the hard shells of wild walnuts.

Selling self-pressed walnut oil could help Nepalese farming families find a way out of poverty. But the walnut is a tough nut to crack.

Author Lydia Skrabania:

Translation Lydia Skrabania, 05.08.17

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. And despite challenging conditions, the majority of the population works in farming. But their yields are often only enough to cover their own needs – there is very little left over that they can sell to generate extra income.

A collaboration between students and product developers at ETH Zurich and the Swiss development organisation Helvetas is tackling that very issue, and wants to increase quality of life for small-scale farmers in north-west Nepal by using a low-tech solution to help them improve their productivity. It’s an area where wild walnut trees grow and valuable oil can be extracted from the nuts. The problem is, however, that the shells of these wild nuts are four times harder than European walnuts. And the nut is tightly fused together with the shell, meaning they are difficult to separate.

© Project MITO Hard to crack: wild walnut shells are extremely hard and the nut inside naturally grows tightly fused with the outer shell.

Mountain villages in Nepal often don’t have electricity or access to fuel such as petrol, so the farmers – often women – have to use their own strength to crack the nuts with stones, crush them and finally press them to extract the oil. It’s a lengthy, complicated and strenuous process: a Nepalese farming family currently needs around three months to extract 12 litres of walnut oil from 200 kilos of nuts.

The Swiss project MITO (from the Nepalese word “mitho” meaning “good, tasty”) wants to use a low-tech solution to make this process easier and quicker. Using MITO’s system it should take only two weeks to make around 10 to 12 litres of oil from 200 kilos of nuts. This would result in a significant increase in production and therefore profits for the families. They could invest the extra income in things like education, and could afford to send their children to school – perhaps, at least in the mid-term, finding a way out of poverty.

The Nut Cracker With Pedal Power

The prototype they’ve come up with to crack this particularly hard nut is a system with three modules: one to crush, another to separate the shell from the nut and another to extract the walnut oil. A bicycle converted specifically for the purpose can be connected to any one of the three modules. The motion of the bike is passed along a v-belt that is connected between one of the three modules and the bicycle’s foot pedal.

The young developers have been working on the project since March 2016 and visited Nepal to carry out field research. The project team is made up of (budding) industrial designers and mechanical engineers from the ETH Zurich and the NGO Helvetas that is helping to ensure that the project is implemented in a sustainable way. The prototype is due to be test in Nepal this year, and will be further developed on site in order to fine tune it to best suit the needs of the farmers. The final version of the pedal-powered nut cracker is to be manufactured by local workers in Nepal.

As well as helping support sustainable social development, the MITO project also looks likely to have a positive influence on the environment and the health of local forests – if the nuts can more easily be used to generate an extra source of income, the wild walnut trees will be better protected and not so quickly chopped down for firewood.

The video below gives you a quick look at how the product is developing:

This article has been translated by Marisa Pettit from the original article that appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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