Hand Planter Could Save Time, Money for Small Farmers

16 September, 2013


From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

Farming without big machines is a hard work. Planting and fertilizing alone can take days in a hot sun. Researchers are working to develop simple machines to make life easier for farmers in the developing world. They also would like to help the farmers save money.

The sound you hear is Jelle Van Loon swinging a long metal hoe with just two flat teeth. He is testing a model of a hand-held planting tool designed for small-scale farmers. With each stroke, one tooth plants a seed: the other, a little fertilizer.

Hand Planter Could Save Time, Money for Small Farmers
A farmer works in his field at the Kondo farm in Eldoret 400km (248 miles) west of the capital Nairobi, Kenya.
Jelle Van Loon is not a farmer. He is an engineer at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. The center is known by its Spanish name, CIMMYT.

Mr. Van Loon is working to develop low-cost tools for small scale farmers around the world. He hopes the tools will save them work, time and money. Usually he starts with a piece of equipment built somewhere else.

"Some are Chinese-made, some are Brazilian-made, where already a lot of effort has been done for small-scale farmers. But the idea is to get these implements here, test them on the fields, and extract what works for us."

An example is a hand-planter from Brazil. The long, wooden v-shaped tool has a piece of metal on the bottom for breaking up the soil. Opening the arms of a part shaped like the letter V loads seed and fertilizer into the metal tip.

This tool is faster and costs less than planting by hand. It uses less seed and fertilizer. It can also reduce the time required for planting and fertilizing a two-hectare farm in half.

The planter still costs about $200 to make. But Jelle Van Loon thinks the final product will cost less. But he says more work is needed. He broke the chain holding the two sides of the V part together. And the wood expanded as a result of the tropical rain in Mexico. So the researchers changed the wood and used a stronger chain. They are now testing their fourth version of the planter.

Mr. Van Loon says CIMMYT will publish plans for the tool on the Internet after the group has found what works.

"So every part is drawn and analyzed, what kind of material you have to use. And this goes to the blacksmiths locally, and to the farmers, so that both can argue what should be done."

However, a tool may work great in one area, but not in another. This may be a result of weather conditions, soil or other issues. So local manufacturers will have to make minor changes to the tool based on where they plan to sell it.

And that's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English, I'm Christopher Cruise.