Posts Tagged ‘mechanization’

African small-scale mechanization project winds down after strong results

This story by Vanessa Meadu was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Demonstration of a minitiller, Naivasha, Kenya. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia have embraced small-scale mechanization thanks to an innovative CIMMYT-led project, which is now drawing to a close. Since 2013, the Farm Mechanization and Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Intensification (FACASI) project has helped farmers access and use two-wheel tractors that significantly reduce the time and labor needed to grow, harvest and process their crops. To ensure long-term sustainability, the project and its partners helped support and develop local enterprises which could supply, service and operate the machines, and encouraged the development of supportive government policies. The project was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), as well as the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat.

“Mechanization is a system not a technology

From its inception, FACASI went beyond simply providing machinery to farmers, and instead envisioned mechanization as a way out of poverty. “Mechanization is a system, not only a technology,” said Bisrat Getnet, the project’s national coordinator in Ethiopia and director of the Agricultural Engineering Research Department at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. “Mechanization needs infrastructure such as roads, fuel stations, spare part dealerships, maintenance centers, training centers and appropriate policies. This project assessed which measures are needed to sustain a new technology and addressed these with direct interventions,” he explained.

The FACASI project worked to introduce and develop new small-scale machines, including two-wheel tractors, small shellers and threshers, and small pumps, in African rural settings, collaborating with local engineers, farmers and manufacturers. This included adapting a range of attachments that could be used to mechanize on-farm tasks such as planting, harvesting, transporting and shelling. In parallel, the project developed local business opportunities around the supply, maintenance and use of the machines, to ensure that users could access affordable services and equipment in their communities.

The project initially worked in four countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Researchers saw significant potential for mechanization to reduce the labor intensity associated with smallholder farming, while encouraging application of conservation agriculture techniques and developing rural service provision businesses. In its second phase, which began in 2017, the project focused on strengthening its efforts in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

“In my view the most innovative aspect enabling FACASI’s success was the concept of combining engineering and business modelling, with an understanding of the political, legislative and policy situations in the four countries,” said Professor John Blackwell, an Adjunct Professor at Charles Sturt University who reviewed FACASI and also invented and helped commercialize several successful machines in South Asia, including the famous Happy Seeder.

“FACASI has proven that small mechanization is viable in smallholder settings,” said CIMMYT scientist and project coordinator Frédéric Baudron. “It has shown smallholders that they don’t have to consolidate their farms to benefit from conventional machines, but that machines can instead be adapted to their farm conditions. This, to me, defines the concept of ‘appropriate mechanization’,” he said.

Conservation agriculture planter manufacturing in Arusha, Tanzania. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Benefits to local communities

During its course, the project improved the efficiency and productivity of smallholder farming, reducing labor requirements and creating new pathways for rural women and youth.

The reduction in the labor and drudgery of farming tasks has opened many doors. Farmers can save the costs of hiring additional labor and reinvest that money into their enterprises or households. With a small double-cob sheller producing one ton of kernels in an hour compared to up to 12 days by hand, women can do something else valuable with their time and energy. Entrepreneurs offering mechanization services — often young people who embrace new technologies — can earn a good income while boosting the productivity of local farms.

Mechanization has shown to sustainably improve yields. In Ethiopia, farmers using two-wheel tractors were able to reduce the time needed to establish a wheat crop from about 100 hours per hectare to fewer than 10 hours. In trials, maize and wheat respectively yielded 29% and 22% more on average, compared with using conventional crop establishment methods.

Local female artisan, Hawassa, Ethiopia. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Impacts now and into the future

According to its national partners, FACASI has laid the groundwork for cheap and practical two-wheel tractors to proliferate. In Ethiopia, there are currently 88 service providers whose skills has been directly developed through FACASI project interventions. “This has been a flagship project,” said Ethiopia national coordinator Bisrat Getnet. “It tested and validated the potential for small-scale mechanization and conservation agriculture, it proved that new business models could be profitable, and it opened new pathways for Ethiopian agriculture policy,” he said.

In Zimbabwe, the project has also set the wheels of change in motion. “FACASI demonstrated an opportunity for creating employment and business opportunities through small-scale mechanization,” said Tirivangani Koza, of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement. “With the right funding and policies, there is a very wide and promising scope to scale-up this initiative,” he said.

Read more:
Explore the FACASI Hello Tractor knowledge platform to learn more about conservation agriculture and small-scale mechanization

Small but mighty: The introduction of mung bean has transformed rice-wheat food systems in Nepal

This story by Alison Doody was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

A member of a women farmers group serves a platter of mung bean dishes in Suklaphanta, Nepal. (Photo: Merit Maharajan/Amuse Communication)

Nearly 65,000 farmers in Nepal, 40% of which were women, have benefited from the Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling project, according to a comprehensive new report. This project is part of the Cereals Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and supported by USAID.

One of the project’s most recent successes has been in accelerating the adoption of the nutritious and stress-tolerant mung bean in rice-wheat farming systems.

Rice-wheat is the dominant cropping system in the lowland region of Nepal. Farmers typically harvest wheat in March and transplant rice in July, leaving land fallow for up to 100 days. A growing body of evidence shows, however, that planting mung bean during this fallow period can improve soil fertility and rice productivity by as much as 25%.

“The mung bean has multiple benefits for farmers,” says Narayan Khanal, a researcher at CIMMYT. “The first benefit is nutrition: mung beans are very rich in iron, protein and are easily digestible. The second benefit is income: farmers can sell mung beans on the market for a higher price than most other legumes. The third benefit is improved soil health: mung beans fix the nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil as well as improve soil organic content.”

Commonly used in dishes like dahl, soups and sprout, mung beans are a common ingredient in Asian cuisine. However, prior to the project, most farmers in Nepal had never seen the crop before and had no idea how to eat it. Encouraging them to grow the crop was not going to be an easy task.

Thanks to dedicated efforts by CIMMYT researchers, more than 8,000 farmers in Nepal are now cultivating mung bean on land that would otherwise be left fallow, producing over $1.75 million of mung bean per year.

The newfound enthusiasm for growing mung bean could not have been achieved without the help of local women’s farming groups, said Timothy J. Krupnik, CIMMYT senior scientist and CSISA project leader.

Mung bean selection and cleaning process at Poshan Food Product (PFP) Ltd, in Butwal, Nepal. (Photo: Merit Maharajan/Amuse Communication)

Bringing research and innovations to farmers’ fields

Introducing the mung bean crop to farmers’ fields was just one of the successes of Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling, which was an added investment by USAID in the wider CSISA project, which began in 2014. The project aims to move agronomic and crop varietal research into real-world impact. It has helped farmers get better access to improved seeds and machinery and strengthened partnerships with the private sector, according to Khanal.

CSISA support in business mentoring and capacity building of seed companies to popularize newly released, biofortified and stress-tolerant wheat varieties has led to seed sales volumes tripling between 2014 to 2019. The project also led to a 68% increase in the number of new improved wheat varieties since the inception of the project.

Nepal’s National Wheat Research Program was able to fast track the release of the early maturing variety BL 4341, by combining data generated by the project through seed companies and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) research station. Other varieties, including Borlaug 100 and NL 1327, are now in the pipeline.

Empowering women and facilitating women’s groups have been critical components of the project. Nepal has seen a mass exodus of young men farmers leaving the countryside for the city, leaving women to work the farms. CIMMYT worked with women farmer groups to expand and commercialize simple to use and affordable technologies, like precision seed and fertilizer spreaders.

Over 13,000 farmers have gained affordable access to and benefited from precision agriculture machinery such as two-wheel ‘hand tractors’ and ‘mini tillers.’ This is a major change for small and medium-scale farmers in South Asia who typically rely on low horsepower four-wheel tractors. The project also introduced an attachment for tractors for harvesting rice and wheat called the ‘reaper.’ This equipment helps to reduce the costs and drudgery of manual harvesting. In 2019, Nepal’s Terai region had almost 3,500 reapers, versus 22 in 2014.

To ensure the long-term success of the project, CSISA researchers have trained over 2,000 individuals from the private and public sector, and over 1,000 private organizations including machinery manufacturers and agricultural input dealers.

Researchers have trained project collaborators in both the public and private sector in seed systems, resilient varieties, better farming practices and appropriate agricultural mechanization business models. These partners have in turn passed this knowledge on to farmers, with considerable impact.

“The project’s outcomes demonstrates the importance of multi-year and integrated agricultural development efforts that are science-based, but which are designed in such a way to move research into impact and benefit farmers, by leveraging the skills and interests of Nepal’s public and private sector in unison,” said Krupnik.

“The outcomes from this project will continue to sustain, as the seed and market systems developed and nurtured by the project are anticipated to have long-lasting impact in Nepal,” he said.

Download the full report:
Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia: Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling. Final report (2014-2019)

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) is led by the International Maize and Wheat Center (CIMMYT), implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). CSISA is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Cranking, a thing of the past

In Bangladesh, a newly available device takes the hassle out of starting the engine of two-wheel tractors, particularly for women entrepreneurs.

This post was originally published on cimmyt.org on July 10, 2019 by M. Shahidul Haque Khan and Sultana Jahan.

Halima Begum wanted to increase her income by providing mechanization services to other farmers in Bangladesh’s Chuadanga district, but she was limited by the level of physical effort required. Starting the engine of her tractor was difficult and embarrassing — cranking it required a lot of strength and she had to rely on others to do it for her. She was also afraid she would get injured, like other local service providers.

Women in rural areas of Bangladesh are often hesitant to work in the fields. Social norms, limited mobility, physical exertion, lack of time and other constraints can cause aspiring female entrepreneurs to step back, despite the prospect of higher income. The few women like Halima who do step out of their comfort zone and follow their dreams often have to overcome the physical effort required to operate these machines.

Starting the tractor is a daunting task on its own and the possibility of having to do it multiple times a day adds to the reluctance of ownership.

To make manual cranking a thing of the past for Bangladeshi women entrepreneurs, and to encourage others, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), through the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI), is supporting small businesses who manufacture and sell affordable mechanical self-starter attachments for two-wheel tractors.

The self-starter is a simple spring-loaded device mounted over the old crank handle socket, which allows users to start the engine with the flick of a lever.

Halima Begum operates her two-wheel tractor, equipped with a self-starter device. (Photo: Mostafa Kamrul Hasan/CIMMYT)

For women like Begum, manually starting a tractor was a difficult task that is now gone forever.

“I used to struggle quite a lot before, but now I can easily start the machine, thanks to this highly convenient self-starter,” Begum said.

The self-starter reduces the risk of accidents and coaxes hesitant youth and women to become entrepreneurs in the agricultural mechanization service industry.

CIMMYT is supporting businesses like Janata Engineering, which imports self-starter devices and markets them among local service providers in the district of Sorojgonj, Chuadanga district. The project team worked with the owner, Md. Ole Ullah, to organize field demonstrations for local service providers, showing how to use and maintain the self-starter device.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The project focuses on upstream market interventions in Bangladesh, ensuring technologies are reliably available in local markets and supported by an extensive value chain.

The saving grace of a hefty investment

By Md. Ashraful Alam, Sultana Jahan and M. Shahidul Haque Khan

Bangladesh farmer Raju Sarder rests his sickle and sits happily on a recently acquired reaper. Photo: iDE/Md. Ikram Hossain

A man in his early 20s walked the winding roads of Sajiara village, Dumuria upazila, Khulna District in Bangladesh. His head hanging low, he noticed darkness slowly descending and then looked up to see an old farmer wrapping up his own daily activities. With traditional tools in hand, the farmer looked exhausted. The young man, Raju Sarder, considered that there had to be a better way to farm while alleviating his drudgery and that of others in the community.

Determined to act, Raju set out to meet Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) officials the very next day. They informed him about the Mechanization and Irrigation project of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA MI). They also introduced him to the project’s most popular technologies, namely the power tiller operated seeder, reaper and axial flow pumps, all of which reduce labor costs and increase farming efficiency.

Raju found the reaper to be the most interesting and relevant for his work, and contacted CSISA SI to acquire one.

The first challenge he encountered was the cost — $1,970 — which as a small-scale farmer he could not afford. CSISA MI field staff assured him that his ambitions were not nipped in the bud and guided him in obtaining a government subsidy and a loan of $1,070 from TMSS, one of CSISA MI’s micro financing partners. Following operator and maintenance training from CSISA MI, Raju began providing reaping services to local smallholder rice and wheat farmers.

He noticed immediately that he did not have to exert himself as much as before but actually gained time for leisure and his production costs dwindled. Most remarkably, for reaping 24 hectares Raju generated a profit of $1,806; a staggering 15 times greater than what he could obtain using traditional, manual methods and enough to pay back his loan in the first season.

“There was a time when I was unsure whether I would be able to afford my next meal,” said Raju, “but it’s all different now because profits are pouring in thanks to the reaper.”

As a result of the project and farmers’ interest, field labor in Raju’s community is also being transformed. Gone are the days when farmers toiled from dawn to dusk bending and squatting to cut the rice and wheat with rustic sickles. Laborious traditional methods are being replaced by modern and effective mechanization.

Through projects such as CSISA MI, CIMMYT is helping farmers like Raju to become young entrepreneurs with a bright future. Once poor laborers disaffected and treated badly in their own society, these youths now walk with dignity and pride as significant contributors to local economic development.

CSISA MI is a partnership involving the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and iDE, a non-governmental organization that fosters farmers’ entrepreneurial development, with funding from the USAID mission in Bangladesh under the Feed the Future Initiative.

A wheat self-sufficiency roadmap for Ethiopia’s future

Mechanization could boost Ethiopian wheat production and provide youth with new job opportunities. (Photo: Gerardo Mejía/CIMMYT)

This blog by Jérôme Bousset was originally posted on CIMMYT.org.

The Ethiopian government announced recently that the country should become wheat self-sufficient over the next four years. Why is boosting domestic wheat production important for this country in the Horn of Africa, and could wheat self-sufficiency be attained in the next four years? The Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR), with the support of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), gathered agriculture and food experts from the government, research and private sectors on November 23, 2018, to draw the first outlines of this new Ethiopian wheat initiative.

The low-tech domestic wheat farming and price support issue

Despite a record harvest of 4.6 million metric tons in 2017, Ethiopia imported 1.5 million tons of wheat the same year, costing US$600 million. Population growth, continuous economic growth and urbanization over the last decade has led to a rapid change in Ethiopian diets, and the wheat sector cannot keep up with the growing demand for pasta, dabo, ambasha and other Ethiopian breads.

The majority of Ethiopia’s 4.2 million wheat farmers cultivate this cereal on an average of 1.2-hectare holdings, with three quarters produced in Arsi, Bale and Shewa regions. Most prepare the land and sow with draft animal power equipment and few inputs, dependent on erratic rainfall without complementary irrigation. Yields have doubled over the last 15 years and reached 2.7 tons per hectare according to the latest agricultural statistics, but are still far from the yield potential.

According to data from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), wheat is preferred by wealthier, urban families, who consume 33 percent more wheat than rural households. Ethiopia needs to rethink its wheat price support system, which does not incentivize farmers and benefits mostly the wealthier, urban consumers. Wheat price support subsidies could, for instance, target bakeries located in poor neighborhoods.

 

Ethiopia’s Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Eyasu Abraha, welcomes conference participants. (Photo: Jérôme Bossuet/CIMMYT)

Where to start to boost wheat productivity?

Ethiopia, especially in the highlands, has an optimum environment to grow wheat. But to make significant gains, the wheat sector needs to identify what limiting factors to address first. The Wheat initiative, led by Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), has targeted 2,000 progressive farmers across 41 woredas (districts) between 2013 and 2018, to promote the use of improved and recommended inputs and better cropping techniques within their communities. A recent IFPRI impact study showed a 14 percent yield increase, almost enough to substitute wheat imports if scaled up across the country. It is, however, far from the doubling of yields expected initially. The study shows that innovations like row planting were not widely adopted because of the additional labor required.

Hans Braun, WHEAT CGIAR research program and CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program director, believes Ethiopian farmers can achieve self-sufficiency if they have the right seeds, the right agronomy and the right policy support.

One priority is to increase support for wheat improvement research to make wheat farmers more resilient to new diseases and climate shocks. Drought and heat tolerance, rust resistance and high yields even in low-fertility soils are some of the factors sought by wheat farmers.

International collaboration in durum wheat breeding is urgently needed as the area under durum wheat is declining in Ethiopia due to climate change, diseases and farmers switching to more productive and resilient bread wheat varieties. Braun advises that Ethiopia set up a shuttle breeding program with CIMMYT in Mexico, as Kenya did for bread wheat, to develop high-yielding and stress-resistant varieties. Such a shuttle breeding program between Ethiopia and Mexico would quickly benefit Ethiopian durum wheat farmers, aiming at raising their yields similar to those of Mexican farmers in the state of Sonora, who harvest more than 7 tons per hectare under irrigation. This would require a policy reform to facilitate the exchange of durum germplasm between Ethiopia and Mexico, as it is not possible at the moment.

Ethiopia also needs to be equipped to respond quickly to emerging pests and diseases. Five years ago, a new stem rust (TKTTF, also called Digalu race) damaged more than 20,000 hectares of wheat in Arsi and Bale, as Digalu — the popular variety used by local farmers — was sensitive to this new strain. The MARPLE portable rust testing lab, a fast and cost-effective rust surveillance system, is now helping Ethiopian plant health authorities quickly identify new rust strains and take preventive actions to stop new outbreaks.

CIMMYT’s representative in Ethiopia, Bekele Abeyo, gives an interview for Ethiopian media during the conference. (Photo: Jérôme Bossuet/CIMMYT)

Invest in soil health, mechanization and gender

In addition to better access to improved seeds and recommended inputs, better agronomic practices are needed. Scaling the use of irrigation would certainly increase wheat yields, but experts warn not to dismiss adequate agronomic research — knowing the optimal water needs of the crop for each agroecological zone — and the underlying drainage system. Otherwise, farmers are at risk of losing their soils forever due to an accumulation of salt.

‘’2.5 billion tons of topsoil are lost forever every year due to erosion. A long-term plan to address soil erosion and low soil fertility should be a priority,” highlights Marco Quinones, adviser at ATA. For instance, large-scale lime application can solve the important issue of acid soils, where wheat does not perform well. But it requires several years before the soil can be reclaimed and visible yield effects can be seen.

Mechanization could also boost Ethiopian wheat production and provide youth with new job opportunities. Recent research showed smallholder farmers can benefit from six promising two-wheel tractor (2WT) technologies. Identifying the right business models and setting up adapted training programs and financial support will help the establishment of viable machinery service providers across the country.

Better gender equity will also contribute significantly to Ethiopia becoming self-sufficient in wheat production. Women farmers, especially female-headed households, do not have the same access to trainings, credit, inputs or opportunities to experiment with new techniques or seed varieties because of gender norms. Gender transformative methodologies, like community conversations, can help identify collective ways to address such inequalities, which cost over one percent of GDP every year.

‘’With one third better seeds, one third good agronomy and one third good policies, Ethiopia will be able to be wheat self-sufficient,” concluded Braun. A National Wheat Taskforce led by EIAR will start implementing a roadmap in the coming days, with the first effects expected for the next planting season in early 2019.

The consultative workshop “Wheat Self-Sufficiency in Ethiopia: Challenges and Opportunities” took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on November 23, 2018.