Innovative Farm Machines Transform Agriculture in Bangladesh

CSISA MI pic 3Agricultural mechanization in South Asia is helping conserve natural resources, improve productivity and increase profits, but many small-scale farmers have yet to benefit from emerging sustainable farming technologies and machinery. Factors such as the high cost of machines and farmers’ lack of access to finance make the machinery unaffordable for resource-poor farmers. However, Bangladesh leads by example and has been a hotbed of innovation, particularly with the 2WTs that are more appropriate for small-scale farmers than the four-wheel variety. Bangladesh has a strong agricultural tradition – nearly two-thirds of its population works in agriculture. It has achieved near self-sufficiency in rice production and has rapidly developed its agricultural sector over the past 20 years, despite being ranked 146th on the global human development index and having roughly half the per capita income of India. Bangladesh’s agriculture sector contributes 19 percent to the country’s gross domestic product. This is the bright side. The other side, however, is that farmers’ land-holdings are very small – an average farming household owns just 0.2 hectares or less – and Bangladesh is home to intensive cropping rotations. Every square centimeter of arable land is used 1.8 times a year, putting intense pressure on natural resources and making the system unsustainable in the long term. Farmers have to continually adapt to challenges including climate change, rising temperatures and increasing fuel prices to sustain productivity. As a result, many farmers are using innovative agricultural machinery to improve the precision and speed of planting and harvesting operations while reducing fuel, irrigation water and labor requirements. With the introduction of cheap, easy-to-operate and easy-to-maintain 2WTs, agriculture in Bangladesh has become highly mechanized during the last decade. Nearly 80 percent of farmers use 2WTs because they are versatile and can be fitted to a variety of innovative auxiliary equipment for planting, threshing and irrigation. A new CIMMYT book, Made in Bangladesh: Scale-appropriate machinery for agricultural resource conservation, highlights the innovative machinery that can be used with two-wheel tractors (2WT) for sustainable farming and gives detailed technical designs to help standardize production quality, making the machines more accessible to farmers. The information in the book is meant to have real-world impacts. Each chapter has scaled technical designs of the machinery, developed with computer-aided drafting to allow manufacturers in Bangladesh and beyond to reproduce and make improvements on the machines. The chapters focus on zero tillage, strip tillage seed and fertilizer drills, bed planters, axial flow irrigation pumps, strip tillage blades, improved furrow openers and seed metering mechanisms. “Many of the machines in the book are inspiring innovations,” said Timothy Krupnik, CIMMYT cropping systems agronomist and one of the book’s authors. “Bangladesh is often seen in a negative light – most international media focuses on its political tragedies, grinding poverty and pressing environmental concerns. But, if you live in Bangladesh, you can see beyond this because you get inspired every day by the creative ways that many of the world’s poorest people come up with creative solutions to the problems they face. All of the machines in the book were either designed and made in Bangladesh, or borrowed from other machines in South and Southeast Asia and then were manufactured in Bangladesh.” The book’s technical designs can be easily replicated by machinery manufacturers, scientists or farmers. “The drawings were developed in a reverse engineering process, where I measured the machines manually and immediately sketched them on paper by hand,” said co-author Santiago Santos Valle. “Once back in the office, I produced the computer-aided drawings using the hand-made sketches.” A learning module on technical drawing interpretation and instructions on how to use the drawings have also been included. Santos Valle added, “While developing the book and working on the drawings, we did a training workshop with local manufacturers and machinery researchers from partnering institutions in Bangladesh to familiarize them with the drawings. The learnings and feedback from the workshop helped to develop and improve the learning module and the instructions included in the book.” Standardization and Affordability There is a great need for small-scale farmers to adopt new machinery in order to overcome rural labor shortages in Bangladesh, which become more severe each year. “Wheat and maize yields decline between 1 and 1.5 percent per day when planted late, so you can imagine the effect if you use the machines to reduce tillage,” Krupnik explained. “Applying seed and fertilizer in one go can save seven to eight days that farmers would have otherwise spent plowing and preparing the land.” One of the most significant problems confronting mechanization in South Asia is design standardization. “Bangladesh has been a ‘hot bed’ of innovation, particularly for the two-wheel tractor,” said Andrew McDonald, CIMMYT cropping systems agronomist and co-author. “But much of this innovation has not reached farmers at scale because commercialization has been impeded by the lack of standardization. Essentially, most workshops create a unique machine every time a new piece is fabricated, which drives up costs to both manufacture and repair the machinery. Quality control is also an issue.” He emphasized that CIMMYT is playing a catalytic role to ensure high-quality machinery is available at a reasonable cost in Bangladesh. The organization is helping formalize the design elements of innovative machinery and working with workshops and industrial houses to implement these designs. In the USAID-Bangladesh Mission funded project, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia – Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI), CIMMYT partners with the NGO International Development Enterprises (iDE) to develop and execute business models to encourage companies and agricultural manufacturers to produce and distribute the machines through commercial mechanisms. In turn, agricultural service providers are linked to finance entities and farmers to purchase machines and to assure demand in the field. These efforts are boosted by technical backing from CIMMYT scientists who assure that land is planted with reduced tillage implements or irrigated with energy efficient pumps. As a result, the adoption of these machines has significantly increased in the last few months – the machinery is now being used on over 2,000 hectares of new land in southern Bangladesh alone – more than a four-fold increase compared to the year before. The machines included in the book have wide applicability and use outside of Bangladesh, and can be used in many smallholder farming contexts in Asia and Africa. “We want the work done in Bangladesh to inspire agricultural machinery manufacturers to reproduce and improve machines in other countries,” Krupnik said. “For this reason the book is free and available through open access and can be downloaded, printed and shared with others as widely as possible.” The PDF version of the book is available online and can be downloaded from the CIMMYT repository.  

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Posted on News & Announcements, February 23, 2014