News / Science & Technology

Hand Planter Could Save Time, Money for Small Farmers

Engineer Demonstrates Prototype Hand Planteri
X
August 27, 2013 6:51 PM
Jelle Van Loon, of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, demonstrates a prototype hand planter.
Jelle Van Loon breaks tools for a living.

At the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center outside Mexico City, which is known by the Spanish acronym CIMMYT, the shaggy-sideburned engineer strikes the ground with a V-shaped, waist-high planting tool.

Its metal tip pierces the soil. He closes the sides of the V and the planter deposits a seed and a small dose of fertilizer into the earth.

Lift. Strike. Repeat. Van Loon says for a typical developing-world farmer who plants and fertilizes a couple hectares of land by hand, this tool could save days of work.

And by delivering just the right amount of seed and fertilizer, it can save money, too.

There’s one problem. It broke.

Learn by breaking

“We put our strongest guy on it and we let him work it.” He was “over-enthusiastic,” Van Loon said, and broke the chain connecting the two sides of the V.

What’s more, the wood swelled in Mexico’s tropical downpours, and some of the parts rusted.

“Which is a good thing,” Van Loon said, because by seeing tools break in real-world conditions, his team knows what it needs to improve before this planter will work for farmers here.

Researchers around the world are working to build simple machines that will save small-scale farmers time, money and effort.

The challenge is to make those tools both affordable and durable for farmers who don’t have much money to invest.

Motorcycles and farm tools

Van Loon is well suited for the job. His background is in rural development, but in his spare time he tinkers with cars and motorcycles.

His latest project has been fixing up his Kawasaki 650 motorcycle.

“It’s making a lot of noise, waking people up in the morning here,” he said with a laugh. “It’s great for the potholes on Mexican roads.”

Applying his gearhead instincts to farm tools, he put a stronger chain on the hand planter and found wood that didn’t swell so much in the rain. He’s testing a new model.

The prototype cost about $200 to make, though the mass-produced product will cost significantly less.

But Van Loon said it would be a worthwhile investment.

“The acquiring cost is a little bit higher, maybe, at first, but the return on investment is higher because inputs [are] lower,” he said. Seed and fertilizer are expensive, Van Loon noted, and “if you can lower the amount of seed you use, this is what you’re going to feel in your pocket.”

Testing and tweaking

Under a corrugated metal roof at CIMMYT’s headquarters, Van Loon showed off a row of prototype hand tools, animal-drawn planters, and equipment pulled behind small engines.

They’re all being tested and tweaked to adapt them to different environments and types of farming, while keeping them affordable.

For example, an off-the-shelf toothbrush installed in one of the larger machines sweeps out the planting mechanism to ensure only one expensive seed is planted at a time.

Agronomist Bill Raun is also wrestling with a prototype hand planter at Oklahoma State University. He and his colleagues are trying to design a $50 tool that will reliably plant exactly one seed per strike, over and over, for a decade.

“We want a unit that will plant 100,000 seeds per hectare for 10 years. So, that’s a million seeds. So, we want 1 million cycles with no failure,” he explained.

They have not reached that level of reliability yet. “We’re getting there,” he said. “But it has been a challenge.”

When it’s ready, he’s working with a major farm machinery company to make the tool available to farmers around the developing world for about $10, with the rest of the cost subsidized by grants or other funding.

It’s being tested out in El Salvador, Guatemala, Zambia and Kenya.

Raun hopes another six months or so of testing will produce the reliable product he is looking for.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Pun from: bangkok
August 28, 2013 10:04 AM
good thinking!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regreti
X
Zana Omer
March 28, 2015 1:19 AM
Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Virginia Tavern Takes Patrons Back to Medieval Times

European martial arts are not widely practiced and are unknown by most people. A tavern in Old Town Alexandria, outside Washington, wants to change this by promoting these fighting techniques from medieval times. Through combining visual arts, martial arts and culinary arts, this tavern brings medieval history back to life. VOA's Yang Lin and Helen Wu report.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More