J-term Peace Engineering trip to Mali - Just another University of St. Thomas Blogs site

Day 3, Continued Village Visits

January 12, 2014

We spent the night outdoors at Wacoro, sleeping in mosquito net tents in the school courtyard.  The moon was incredibly bright at the beginning of the night.  It masked nearly all of the stars.  Once the moon disappeared from our view, all of the stars came out.  It was a remarkable experience to sleep under the stars.

In the morning, we had millet and sorghum porridge with the mayor of Wacoro.  He discussed how the village of approximately fourteen thousand uses seven tons of refined sugar a week.  For us, this demonstrated the need for a sugar substitute, which the sorghum syrup could provide.  After a short while, three of us were selected to meet the chief of the village.  Dr. George, Dr. Mowry, and I were lucky enough to meet him.  He was surprisingly 93 years old but he seemed quite active and joked around with us in his native language, Bambara.  At the conclusion of the meeting, he wished us good luck with our project and gave us permission to leave the village.  Before that, he gave Dr. Mowry and me our Malian names.  Before the end of the trip, all members of the team were given Malian names.  Below is a picture with the chief.

Dr. Mowry : Moussa Coulibaly

Louis : Madou Coulibaly



After leaving Wacoro, we visited another village to discuss the possibility of sorghum syrup.  The group of men we discussed with were members of a cereal union, that poses advantages for sharing fields and selling grain.  These farmers said that they only use grain of the sorghum.  The juice in the stalks is not used and the stalks are often sold in the market.  This was a common response from the villages we visited.   The picture below shows a roof made of sorghum stalks.



After explaining, the possibilities of sorghum syrup, the men expressed interest in using it as a honey substitute.  This gave us a new selling point of sorghum syrup; now, it could be described as a sugar substitute and honey substitute.

At the conclusion of the visit, we returned to Bamako to the Sleeping Camel for debriefing and preparation for the next day.  Each evening, we would have a team meeting to discuss the most important data points collected throughout the day and express what experience stuck out to us the most.


Day 2, trip to Dioila and Wacoro

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

We woke up bright and early for a a road-trip east to Dioila and later to the nearby village of Wacoro.  After about 3 hours of expert driving by Cheick Bane we made it to the small town of Dioila.  Luckily for us it was market day so we set out exploring to see what types of materials are available that we could utilize for the project.  Just about anything could be found in the market from food, clothing and other household items to motorcycle parts, oil barrels, and even blacksmiths and welders making custom items.  We found many eyes were upon us as we walked through the market but they were friendly eyes, always smiling and waving.  Joe found himself a new friend.


After lunch in Dioila the team made their way to Wacoro.  There we meet with men’s and women’s farming groups.  We were able to attain great information from the farmers that will be very helpful for the project.  Fanta Camara (the Malian name for Dr. Camille George) was quite the star as she hit it off with the women’s group.  DSCF0521The villagers treated us to a dinner of rice with sauce and vegetables that we ate in traditional Malian fashion, all gathered around big bowls scooping out the food with our hands.DSCF0525  We made camp in their village where we were going to stay the night.   The students also got the chance to meet some children and play a bit of soccer.



Day-4 Malibiocarburant and IPR – by Brendan O’Connell

Monday January 13, 2014

The agenda for the Sweet Sorghum Processing Team was to visit Malibiocarburant and IPR in the nearby city of Koulikoro, Mali.

Malibiocarburant is a company that “produces biofuel in a way that supplements farmers’ incomes, contributes to poverty alleviation and respects the environment” and we took the hour long drive north to meet with them.  We picked up two employees of the company, Frederic Sanou and Aukje de Jager, who explained to us what the company does and how they are looking to use sweet sorghum.  Malibiocarburant currently works with local farmers to utilize different methods of producing biofuel. They took the team out to the fields to show us some jatropha plants currently being used for biofuel. They explained to us that they are looking into the possibility of intercropping the jatropha with sweet sorghum.  Jatropha is a plant utilized for biofuel, while sweet sorghum would be used for human nutrition.  Intercropping with sweet sorghum  would be of more value to the farmers.

After visiting with Malibiocarburant, the team headed to Institut Polytechnique Rural (IPR) for discussions of the sweet sorghum concentrator after the team builds it in April/May.  The goal of the meeting was to find some local students who would be willing to help with the manufacturing of the concentrator on-site in Mali rather than having us ship it there. The University of St. Thomas has worked with IPR in the past, helping install Solidworks to their university’s computers.  The team gave a short presentation and then Dr. Camille George further explained how it would be useful to work with students who already live in Mali by sending the Solidworks drawings and have them reproduce it there.  The IPR directors seemed quite confused and were very hesitant to agree.  They cited “lack of funds” as a reason they would have a hard time cooperating.  After much persistence from Dr. George and a long translated dialogue, the leaders agreed to set something up in the future to continue the project in the future, even after the concentrator is completed.

The team took the trip back to home base at The Sleeping Camel and crashed for the night. They days have been long a hot but we are getting lots of work accomplished.


Day 1 – by Brendan O’Connell

(Our bloggers on the Peace Engineering J-term trip are having some problems accessing the internet to post directly on our blog site so I will be posting for them via their blog posts which the group will e-mail to me).

This blog post was written by Brendan O’Connell.

The team arrived in Mali January 9th around 11:45pm. Out hotel, called The Sleeping Camel is home base for the weeklong stay. Landing in Bamako was an experience in itself. As soon as we walked off the plane, the smell of burning charcoal filled the air and it was quite hazy. The wait time to get our bags and pass through Mali customs took a good amount of time. Our professor, Dr. Greg Mowry described it best as “organized chaos”.  We settled in and all passed out after the long journey.

The very next morning we drove to meet our sponsoring company ICRISAT about 25 minutes from our hotel. We met all the people who we were to be working with during the duration of our stay. Dr. Fred Rattunde is our leader, organizer, and translator for the trip. He showed the team around the ICRISAT research facility and introduced us to other employees.

After the introductions were over, the team did it’s own harvest, crush, and concentrate of sweet sorghum while gaining valuable insight from another ICRISAT employee named Baloua Nebiie. He showed us how they made the syrup and gave us information about the growing in Mali. We finished the production of syrup, had lunch and left back to the hotel for the rest of the day.


Sorghum Syrup Production in Mali

This year a team of senior engineers at the University of St Thomas have began working on adapting sorghum stalk processing from North America to be used in Mali, Africa.  This process takes juice out of sorghum stalks and concentrates it into a syrup.  This syrup is high in sugar and will be used to benefit children by both supplementing sugar in their diet and increasing family income for the producers.  The team is working with ICRISAT, a  non-profit agricultural research organization, for this senior design project.

As a part of the project the team of 4 senior ME students, Zach Vaughan, Brendan O’Connell, Louis Kjerstad, and Joe Klinkhammer, along with two professors, Dr. Camille George and Dr. Greg Mowry, are heading to Bamako, Mali to conduct research.  The objectives of the trip will be to gather information and attain a better understanding of the cultural concepts of this project and to conduct material research.

The team leaves this upcoming Wednesday, January 8th, and will be in Mali until Friday, January 17th.  Blogs will be posted by the students throughout their travel, depending on internet availability.