Volume: 5, Issue: 3


Education and Sustainable Development: A Case Study of the Role Amish Play in Training and Supporting East African Food Production
Хайнз, Джеймс В. [about] , Эдингтон, Вильям Д. [about]

KEY WORDS: Amish, east Africa, Animal power, sustainable development.
ABSTRACT: The purpose of this study is to examine the role that the Amish communities in the United States play in enabling east African food producers to develop sustainable methods of food production. The acquisition of skill sets include business/entrepreneurial training, acquiring welding and carpentry techniques, and suitable scale appropriate equipment designs for use with the local animal power available to farmers in east Africa.  This case study exams one individual’s program training with two Amish businesses, located in the northeastern United States. The study found the training to be effective in delivering the skill sets sought by the participant. In conclusion, while the education received by the participant was very important to him, the Amish readily acknowledged how important it was for them to be involved with such a program. Every effort will be made to continue with this work.


During 2011, faculty of Oklahoma State University (OSU) and a member of the faculty from Sam Houston State University (SHSU) collaborated to deliver a U.S. Department of State-funded Citizens’ Exchange Grant for Food Security Fellows project. Through this endeavor, faculty from SHSU made contacts with Ugandan faculty from several universities and a successful farm equipment manufacturer/manager (M) in Kampala, Uganda. During the initial visit, it was determined that food security was a primary concern in Uganda – especially in the northern regions (a post conflict area). During that initial visit, it was first observed and then confirmed from multiple sources that, while subsistence farming was the predominant mode of agricultural production, there existed a genuine interest in learning how to increase food supplies in a sustainable scale appropriate way without using combustion engine powered equipment. In M’s equipment manufacturing facility, for example, a significant portion of annual sales was made to small farmers throughout the country who would benefit from an increase in the use of animal powered equipment. While many of the tillage and grain processing tools were represented, there were obvious gaps in the utility and efficiency of the implements when compared to those offered for sale to farmers for use on small farms in the United States. This was especially the case when reviewing the equipment designed for use with animal power. He indicated an interest in learning how to construct scale appropriate equipment for use with the available draft animals in Uganda; that is oxen and donkeys. Thus begun the conversation of him traveling to the United States to observe and learn.

Since 1993, Amish communities in the United States have sponsored an annual event called Horse Progress Days where newly designed animal powered farming equipment designed and manufactured by the Amish is demonstrated in a public setting. This event is held on a rotational basis in the large Amish communities located in the central northeast United States. The Amish have as a tenet of their religious beliefs an obligation to help those in need. They regularly engage in community service within their society. This interest in helping others extends to the world at large (Hynes, 2011).  Through Sam Houston State University acting as an intermediary, it was arranged that M come to the United States and train with the Amish.

One objective for possible training for M was to introduce the concept of low-cost sustainable staged innovation to the Ugandan food production system by using simple mechanical tools that require no fossil-based fuels and are powered by existing draft animals. Ugandan farmers already grow feedstuffs for the draft animals used in agricultural production. Ugandan farmers already grow feedstuffs for the draft animals used in agricultural production and the draft animals reproduce themselves, thereby negating the necessity of importing costly fossil fuel powered units such as tractors

 The coupling of Ugandan farmers’ knowledge of cropping practices and animal husbandry with modernized, Amish designed animal-powered equipment built on the “template of relic technology” would provide the beginnings a staged innovation platform on which to grow Ugandan agricultural production. Relic technology implies the use of contemporarily manufactured animal-powered farm implements. These tools are constructed with modern designs that extend their utility and longevity if, in concert, the technical expertise required for their optimal use is provided to the adopting farmers.

In July of 2012, M journeyed to the United States to begin learning from an Amish steel fabricator and an animal powered equipment manufacturer how to construct animal powered farm implements. The goal was to begin developing the skills needed to construct and use modernized, animal-powered, relic technology. The expected outcome was the training would improve Ugandan animal powered farming implements in a scale appropriate sustainable way.

This qualitative study describes the training he received and the impact it has had on his business from both an operational and production perspective. Additionally, it assesses the feasibility of U.S. agricultural machinery manufacturers meeting the needs of Ugandan agricultural producers regarding “scale appropriate” sustainable technologies.

Theoretical Framework

Efficient utilization of draft animals can have a positive influence on quality of life in a community. From grain grinders to refrigeration units, power units (driven by draft animals) can ease daily drudgery. These tools can be made locally and again adoption would be “scale appropriate” for many farmers in Africa.  Essentially, they could grow their farming operations modestly yet not require petroleum products to provide machine-generated power. What is more, using existing and available animal power coupled with small scale affordable equipment would not disrupt existing social order (Rogers, 2003); yet, it could generate meaningful increases in food productivity. Low capital options, such as modernized, “relic technology,” allow farmers to customize solutions to their production problems without having significant investments in costly equipment. Moreover, using existing animal power but doing so more efficiently is a sustainable and climate friendly cultural practice that provides for energy recovery (Kruger, 2004).

Although the Amish are typically known for avoidance of modern technologies, they do not necessarily view technology as evil, but rather as deviating from their commitment to simplicity in their personal lives. While Amish homes and transportation venues are often viewed as antiquated, their business operations can be technologically quite advanced. Natural gas, wind turbines, and diesel generators are all used to power machinery in Amish manufacturing facilities. Combining power which can be self-generated with the power supplied by draft animals (mixed power) has sustained Amish businesses and farming operations for generations.


The participant (M) arranged for his flight to the U.S. in June 2012. The authors consider this significant because it demonstrated “buy in” on the part of M. He was picked up at an international airport and driven to his first Amish host – a steel fabricator in Indiana who, along with 35 employees, manufactures and markets agricultural steel products to Amish communities in the U.S. as well as a large number of international companies in Central, South America and Asia.

Here his training in welding and business operations “Amish style” began. After 10 days, M and his Amish hosts traveled to the 2012 Horse Progress Days in Central Michigan. After seeing first- hand how animal powered farm equipment worked in actual field conditions at the show, M traveled to an Amish farm equipment manufacturer in Ohio where he spent a week honing skills and perfecting welding techniques he had acquired in his earlier training in Indiana and throughout his life.

Findings and Interpretations

M studied equipment, business strategies, and manufacturing techniques he had not seen before, even though he is himself a successful business man in his own right who sells his products throughout Uganda and neighboring east Africa countries. He sat for several extended interviews with the authors in person, on the telephone, and finally a debriefing via email. His reporting of his experiences and their implications for himself, his business, and his country was insightful.

On my first day, “I was taken around the workshop… showed me the generator which impressed me a lot because in the same unit are (an) air compressor, (a) hydraulic system, and (an) electric generator. I was so much impressed with the quality of work being displayed in the working hall. On that very day I started working in the work shop by drilling holes. I noticed …. technology which could be copied and adopted in Uganda.”

M also discussed the business aspect of his operations in Uganda with his Amish host during his stay.  “I asked him a lot of questions especially on the challenges of business administration at home. Through these discussions I arrived at solutions that have helped me a lot!”

M’s comments on Horse Progress Days were equally revealing. “This is a show for animal powered equipment….manufacturers with hundreds of displays of new and old technology and demonstrations. This was very interesting to me because I had never experienced such events in my life. The Treadmill is a wonderful machine operated by horse to pump water, operate (an) air compressor, split wood etc. Since my return to Uganda, I have begun constructing one which will soon be completed.” After Horse Progress Days, M traveled to Ohio and was hosted by an animal powered farm equipment manager for 1 week. His insights during his training were equally as judicious as his reflections concerning his prior training.

 “For the period of one week, I learned quiet a lot from them. They were social and willing to answer any questions that I asked. I had several discussions with them over challenging issues in my company, especially in job management, time management and discipline in the factory. For the seven days, I had to be in the factory early in the morning, go around  and if  I come across something I want (ed) to know I used to ask either any (of the) workers, or Leon or Dan. When I was leaving, they gave me a printed drawing for some machines to use when I am fabricating them. They also bought for me a Hydraulic set to start with, when I am developing Hydraulic systems. I was given (the) opportunity to take photos and short videos of all machines and processes I would need in fabrication of machines. Those videos have made me come up with a DVD comprising my trip in America.”


M’s journey was a success not only in terms of his business but socially and culturally as well. Here was a man from east Africa who trained with Old Order Amish and learned how to significantly improve not only his business but also help his country’s food production. Upon returning to Uganda, M had an exhibit at a major Ugandan Farm show where he demonstrated several new items manufactured by him utilizing designs/techniques he learned from the Amish. This scale appropriate farm equipment is now used in Uganda and neighboring countries.

“The trip to USA was very good because I learned a lot from it. This trip revealed to me information about technology and management which has improved the standard of running of my company. I was introduced to the new technology in welding using MIG and TIG welding. I did some practicums in aluminum welding using Tig welding and also with mild steel using Mig welding. They taught me management skills e.g. how to manage production, how to recruit new workers, how to make rules and regulations for my employees.” For example, M now has his employees punch in on a time card. If an employee punches in 5 minutes early each workday for a week, he receives a small bonus in his pay packet. M has noted that this is very popular with his employees and the productivity in the shop has improved.

Since hosting M, the Amish have mentioned to the authors numerous times how important it was to them as individuals and communities to have the opportunity to work with him. They regularly inquire as to his well-being, family and business. At Sam Houston State University we are continuing our work in Uganda. This summer the authors are traveling to the western region of the country and hope to recruit additional people for training with the Amish. They also will seek elementary and secondary teachers for our professional development programs within their disciplines. The authors will continue to seek out opportunities for global collaborations with those like-minded practitioners of the art of sustainable development and educational improvement.


  • Hynes, J. W., Murphrey, T.P., & Edwards, M.C. (2011). Introduction of Modernized Relic Technology for Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Mali: Strategies, Challenges, & Opportunities – A Case Study. Paper presented at the International Agricultural and Extension Education Conference in Windhoek, Namibia. Available at http://www.aiaee.org/proceedings/116-2011-windhoek-namibia/1441-introduction-of-modernized-relic-technology-for-sustainable-agricultural-practices-in-mali.html 
  • Kruger, C. (2004). Climate friendly farming moves into energy recovery. BioCycle, 45(11), 56.

Home | Copyright © 2023, Russian-American Education Forum