Agriculture & Water


Co-PIs: Amy Smith, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Founding Director, D-Lab and Rohit Karnik, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering

This project aims to address the largely unmet need to provide safe and affordable drinking water to low-income groups by developing low-cost water filters that exploit the natural filtration capabilities of xylem tissue in wood. The key advantages of xylem as a water filter are low filter replacement cost compared to existing gravity-driven filters, light weight, easy transportability, good rejection of bacteria and protozoa, and the ability to manufacture locally with minimal infrastructure. Filtration devices developed from this material have potential to act as low-cost household water filters or could be distributed in emergencies.

The initial work has addressed the challenge of dry storage of xylem filters and advanced our understanding of xylem as a filter material. In parallel, we have explored channels for implementation and have identified potential partners and commercialization strategies in India. The project is identifying the ‘sweet spot’ for xylem filters by assessing the usability, desirability, and affordability of low-cost filters, and by addressing feasibility through understanding and optimization of filter flow rate and lifetime, validating filtration performance in the lab and field, and creating a roadmap for local manufacture and commercialization.


In February and March 2016, an MIT D-Lab research team traveled to Odisha, India to conduct a needs assessment in collaboration with Heifer International and their partners. 

Through this research and the subsequent analysis, the team has started to identify critical challenges and gaps and potential interventions to improve the productivity of the smallholder goat activities. Over the next several months, the team will finish the analysis, identify more specific needs, generate the report/presentation and recommend technological solutions or processes that will address these issues. This information will be shared with Heifer International, their partners, and research participants in a format that is most useful to them (report, presentation, videos). The stakeholders will then discuss phase II of the project, which could include an evaluation of the recommended technologies, a co-design workshop or technology development. 


In the summer of 2014, D-Lab carried out an in-depth study to characterize and assess the small-scale dairy and beef production system in Morocco as it affects the livelihoods of the rural population. This assessment built upon and verified the findings of a preliminary study carried out by D-Lab a year earlier, which identified the high cost of animal feed as a major constraint for Moroccan smallholder farmers. Working in and around Tifelt, situated 65 kilometers east of Rabat, the D-Lab team selected and interviewed small-scale farmers about their cropping and livestock management practices.

The report includes a market analysis of the dairy sector in the Tifelt region, a stakeholder, analysis, and a value chain analysis of the dairy and beef production systems, as well as a bio-economic model that evaluates the nutritional and economic impact of potential solutions. For an overview of the report, see the D-Brief: Improving Livelihoods in Morocco: Needs Assessment of Small-Scale Cattle Farmers.