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Nonprofit redesigns Amish farm equipment for African communities

Ox driven plow in Mozambique
Tillers International
Tillers International works with African artisans and blacksmiths in these countries to build ground driven agricultural equipment.


When it comes to solving 21st century problems — say food insecurity in developing countries — everything old is new again.

That's the message of Tillers International, a nonprofit based in Kalamazoo County. The organization is taking 18th century agricultural technology and working with engineers and the Amish community to redesign plows and tools for African farmers.

Jonathan Kline is the executive director of Tillers International. He spoke with Stateside about why these old tools are needed to solve current day problems. 

Currently, Kline’s organization is working on projects in Madagascar, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso. They work with artisans and blacksmiths in these countries to build ground driven agricultural equipment, like the kind used in the United States in the 18th century. 

Many of the tools Tillers looks to as models are still produced by Amish manufacturers. According to Kline, these tools still work well and they are also very sustainable. 

Kline said some of the communities they are helping have already seen great improvement in efficiency. 

“We’ve seen what would take somebody two or three days to plant by hand, that they are able to knock that out now in an afternoon,” Kline said. “Which is quite nice for people that are having to hunch over and plant by hand every day.”

Kline has also begun to notice that when communities no longer need ten people farming, they are less likely to pull young girls out of school for manual labor. 

Listen above to hear more on the impact Tillers International is making.  

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry. 

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