Agricultural industry in Africa could soon get a boost, thanks in part to former local

Jordan Garrity (left) sits in the passenger’s seat as Arsene, an employee of the non-profit ACREST in Cameroon, test drives one of the AgRovers that Garrity’s company hopes to manufacture in several countries in Africa.
Jordan Garrity (left) sits in the passenger’s seat as Arsene, an employee of the non-profit ACREST in Cameroon, test drives one of the AgRovers that Garrity’s company hopes to manufacture in several countries in Africa. Photo provided.

Originally published Feb. 27, 2017.

The agricultural industry in a handful of countries in Africa could soon get a boost, thanks to a project involving a man who grew up in Huntington.

Jordan Garrity is co-founder of a company that has designed a low-cost, multipurpose utility vehicle that he envisions being manufactured and sold in central African countries including Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya.

In fact, Garrity has already built a handful of vehicles in Cameroon, and the first of what he calls microfactories is up and running in Nigeria.

The microfactories, he says, will provide employment in the countries where they’re located, and the vehicles they produce will enable subsistence farmers to begin selling what they produce at a profit.

The vehicle, he says, is desperately needed in that region.

“They’re the ones that need it the most,” says Garrity, a 2010 Huntington North High School graduate, explaining how he chose the countries to target. “Africa is exploding in population, and there is little to no innovation on the agricultural side.

“The rural community in Africa is left in the dust, with little to no access to  motorized transportation … They’re limited to subsistence agriculture. This could get them out of that loop, enable them to get the product to market.”

Farmers who have used the AgRover are impressed, he says.

“They love it because they still do everything by hand,” Garrity says. That includes planting, irrigating, harvesting and getting the crops to market.

The AgRover designed by Garrity’s company, Mobile Agricultural Power Solutions (MAPS), can be used in all of those tasks. In fact, the multiple uses is an integral part of the AgRover’s design, he says.

Its engine can power all sorts of auxiliary equipment — pumps for irrigation, for example, so that women and children don’t have to carry water on their heads to the fields.

“They love the multipurpose aspect of it,” Garrity says. “The engine is half the cost, and the more usage we can get out of it, the better.”

The AgRover can power generators for all sorts of equipment, pull equipment in the field and carry farm products to market.

“Up to 40 percent of crops die in the field because they can’t get them to market on time,” Garrity said.

With the AgRover, farmers won’t need to spend all day walking or bicycling to take their product to market.

Purdue University has had an ongoing project, initiated in 2008, to create a utility vehicle for farmers in Africa.

Garrity got involved in the project in 2012 as an undergraduate at Purdue. He’s since earned his master’s degree from Purdue and now lives in Peoria, IL.

A vehicle was built at Purdue each year to test the design as it evolved, and Garrity went to Cameroon in 2013 and 2014 to build vehicles there.

“Making the vehicle here and shipping it there gets expensive,” he explains. “Making it there is a lot cheaper.”

MAPS, with a goal of manufacturing the vehicles in the countries where they will be used, is the product of Garrity’s senior design project at Purdue. The business team is made up of Garrity and three other current and former Purdue students including Bunmi Babajide, who grew up in Nigeria and serves as the business development manager of MAPS.

While MAPS is a stand-alone business, Garrity says, it continues to maintain a partnership with Purdue as a source of information on new technology.

MAPS started looking for a partner that would enable it to manufacture vehicles in country and, through a professor at Purdue, eventually linked up with ACREST, the African Centre for Renewable Energy & Sustainable Technology. The non-profit group could offer them a place to sleep and a workshop in Cameroon where they could build the vehicles, he says.

ACREST didn’t want to open a full-scale factory, Garrity says, preferring instead to make the manufacturing component a learning process for the local residents. The Cameroon manufacturing facility hires college interns from Africa.

“We are unique in that we come from the U.S.,” Garrity notes, referring to himself and his business partners.

MAPS hopes to get the first AgRovers on the market this summer.

The AgRover will sell for about 5,000 U.S. dollars, Garrity notes, and the price will probably be out of reach for individual farmers. He imagines the end users to be cooperative farms, municipalities or entrepreneurs that will rent the vehicle to local farmers.

All money made from sale of the vehicles will be put back in the business, he says.

More information about MAPS and the AgRover can be found on the company’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/mo bileagpower.

MAPS has launched an Indiegogo fund-raising campaign to fund the microfactory in Nigeria. Contributions can be made at igg.me/at/agrover.