WILMINGTON — The winner of this year's prestigious UNCW Albert Schweitzer Award is a brilliant, unassuming local man. He's received worldwide recognition, but if you walked past him on the streets of Wilmington, would you recognize him?
Inventor Jock Brandis solves problems.
"I love weird challenges. I love weird, mechanical challenges, and that's why I think I like the film business," Brandis said.
With an enviable list of film credits on www.imdb.com from having worked on dozens of movies, Brandis prefers the toughest assignments.
In 2001 a friend from Wilmington serving in the Peace Corps in Africa contacted Brandis. She knew he could help the residents of Mali.
"So I hopped over there and fixed the drinking water system," Brandis said.
But while there Brandis encountered a greater challenge: how to create "appropriate technology" to improve the lives of locals eking out a living from the peanut crop.
"They were shelling them by hand, and that's a very slow, tedious process, and you, actually, you saw people after several hours of shelling and their hands would be getting bloody because it's so hard to do," Brandis said. "I thought, boy, that's a terrible situation. Someone should do something about that."
That "someone" turned out to be Brandis.
"Coming from the film industry we're used to inventing stuff, so I invented it."
With Brandis's creation, the "Full Belly Project" was born.
"The peanuts drop down through here, and as they drop down, they get into the space which gets narrower and they get to the point where the peanut lodges like that, where it can't go down any further… As you turn it, it starts rolling downwards into a narrower space, and literally just rolls the shell off the peanut."
Ingenious? Definitely. Effective? Absolutely.
"It's about as simple a concept as you can get."
Yet finding a way to shell nuts quickly, easily and inexpensively had confounded people seeking the solution for centuries. Even an internationally-known peanut farmer, turned president and now humanitarian was very impressed.
Former President Jimmy Carter said, "This is really great! It's remarkable you could do it that way."
The durable, inexpensive materials and functional, sturdy design result in machines that are affordable — about $45 apiece — that can be manually operated for decades.
Re-usable kits and detailed instructions on how to manufacture them on site are delivered around the world — in Guatemala, Haiti, Gambia, Uganda, Sudan and Tanzania to name a few.
"I think globally because Full Belly Project is working on four continents right now, which is about as global as it gets. And we have to think locally, because Wilmington is our base of support."
Brandis left Wednesday for Haiti. A film crew making a documentary about his efforts to develop "appropriate technology" worldwide is shadowing him. The title of the project perfectly describes Jock Brandis as "the appropriate genius."