Farmers are turning to two-wheeled tractor-mounted reaper-harvesters to make up for the lack of farm labor caused by a significant number of rural Nepalese — especially men and youth — migrating out in search of employment opportunities.
Over 4,000 mechanized reapers have been sold in Nepal with more than 50 percent in far and mid-west Nepal since researchers first introduced the technology five years ago. The successful adoption — which is now led by agricultural machinery dealers that were established or improved with CSISA’s support — has led nearly 24,000 farmers to have regular access to affordable crop harvesting services, said CIMMYT agricultural economist Gokul Paudel.
CSISA in Nepal organized a three-day traveling seminar on
“Scale-appropriate machinery for cereal crop harvesting in South Asia” on March
25–29, 2019. In Nepal, the adoption of agricultural mechanization has increased
slowly over time. While small, regional markets for combine harvesters have
existed in Nepal for the last 20 years, the major rise in sales has occurred in
the last 10 years, both for combines and, more recently, for two-wheel
tractor-based reaper-harvesters. Farmers have used machinery to cope with labor
shortages and increasing wage rates.
Over 40 delegates, including international experts, private
sector scaling partners and dignitaries such as the Director General of Nepal’s
Department of Agriculture and Chief of the Prime Minister Agriculture
Modernization Project attended the event. Participants visited a variety of
CSISA sites and project partners across Nepal’s Terai. Field visits,
demonstrations and discussions with farmers and service providers began in
Rupandehi district and proceeded to Kailali district, with several in-between
Delegates observed technologies being used in farmers’
fields and discussed progress-to-date to mechanize cereal production in Nepal
and more broadly across Asia. Participants saw Nepal’s scale-appropriate,
private sector-led mechanization in farmers’ fields, including the use of large
combine harvesters and self-propelled reapers in Rupandehi and the recent
spread of thousands of two-wheel tractor reapers in Banke, Bardiya and Kailali.
Delegates discussed issues with farmers who use the services of machinery
service providers, service providers themselves, machinery importers and sales
On the last day of the traveling seminar, delegates from China, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam shared their views on how different types of farm machines are spreading in their countries. These discussions and presentations included private and public sector representatives interested in finding sustainable, equitable, and productive solutions to grain harvesting challenges for all farm sizes and farmers across the region. Professor Ding Qishuo, College of Engineering, Nanjing Agricultural University, recalled his experience in southern China 20–30 years ago and found similarities with Nepal’s Terai, where “a huge gap in rural manual labor may need to be filled by machinery”. Prof. Ding stated that there is a large opportunity for promoting mechanized harvesting in the region; however, there is still much left to do to document and quantify local farming systems. According to Prof. Ding, “many lessons can be learned from other Asian countries and applied to Nepal’s farming systems”.
India is the industrial powerhouse of South Asia, with a large agricultural machinery industry that, most notably, sells huge numbers of good quality, low-cost four-wheel tractors. Indian machinery manufacturers are well placed to expand and diversify their markets into other South Asian nations, not only for four-wheel tractors, but also for two-wheel tractors and their specialized implements, including planters and seeders.
To address the need for better two-wheel tractor attachments such as seeder-planters and reapers in Nepal, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided funding to the Cereal Systems Initiative in South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), to work with Indian manufacturers of two-wheel tractor attachments to better tailor their designs to the needs of small-scale farmers. Noting that two-wheel tractor owners have not adopted existing models of seeder-planters on a wide scale anywhere in the world, CSISA conducted a series of ‘Design Sprints’ in India that helped manufacturers of two-wheel tractor seed drills and planters tweak and modify their machinery designs to better suit the needs of small-scale farmers, including in Nepal’s hill and Terai ecologies.
A ‘Design Sprint’ at National Agro in Ludhiana, Punjab, going well into the evening due to lively debates and discussions.
During a series of three- to five-day Design Sprints, CSISA provided seed drill manufacturers with technical feedback on their current designs and facilitated discussions about the merits and demerits of various seed drills currently available in the market (worldwide there are over 40 design offerings from the private and public sector). Groups considered various incremental changes to their existing models, as well as entirely new designs that would be more relevant for, and commercially attractive to, small-scale two-wheel tractor owners, farmers and service providers.
After a series of visits by CSISA in 2016, the Design Sprints began in earnest in early 2017. The Sprints will accelerate the prototyping, testing and ‘getting to market’ of at least three new models of two-wheel tractor planters from Khedut Agro and Dharti Agro, both located in Rajkot, Gujarat, and National Agro in Ludhiana, Punjab. CSISA wanted to give the manufacturers’ designers wide creative berth to be as innovative as possible in solving existing agronomic and ergonomic limitations faced by their current offerings. Therefore, CSISA provided only a few stipulations – any new design should aim to:
Follow basic norms in seed drill design, including basic agronomic and conservation agriculture norms
Cost less than the current offerings
Be lighter weight than their existing designs
Fit easily on the two-wheel tractors that are prevalent in Nepal and Bangladesh (and many places in India)
Be driven safely and comfortably on the road so that service providers can move quickly between jobs (farmers’ fields).
New Dharti prototype for lightweight, road transportable, two-wheel tractor planter-seeder that emerged from the Design Sprint.
These conditions were derived from years of feedback received by CSISA about farmers’ experiences with various two-wheel tractor seed drills. Farmers conveyed that although many drills were agronomically sound in the field, they were ergonomically problematic for the operator, and too expensive for many small-scale two-wheel tractor service providers.
The three manufacturers have nearly completed their prototypes, and the next stage will involve CSISA facilitating several prototypes from each manufacturer to be tested and, if necessary, refined in Nepal by the Nepal Agricultural Research Center. Ultimately, USAID and CSISA aim to utilize the knowledge and knowhow of the Indian agricultural machinery industry to enable two-wheel tractor-based farmers to enjoy the same economic and agronomic benefits of increased input productivity from mechanized line sowing of seed and banding of fertilizer that four-wheel tractor-based farmers now enjoy in South Asia.
This article is authored by Scott E. Justice, Agricultural Mechanization Specialist, CIMMYT-Nepal.
In Kalukhali, Rajbari district, Bangladeshi farmers mostly cultivate paddy, which requires engaging a large labor force in order to harvest the crop. Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, an experienced agricultural service provider, was keen to minimize labor expenses in order to accelerate his business profits. After seeing a reaper in the neighboring village that harvested the crop faster, thus helping in timely planting of the subsequent crop, he decided to purchase this new machine. Imported and marketed by ACI company, this machine was suitable for reaping wheat and Amon and Aush paddy.
“Initially, my family members were against the big investment of US$ 2,360 for purchasing this machine,” said Rafiqul. “They told me this will be a costly deal,” he added. Previously, Rafiqul would hire 10 laborers for around two weeks to harvest 3.57 hectares of land, which used to cost him around US$ 1,300.
Despite facing resistance at home, Rafiqul bought the reaper anyway, and he didn’t regret it. Even after hiring a machine operator and purchasing fuel, Rafiqul could save around US$ 1,230 in labor costs from harvesting his land in less than two weeks. Additionally, he generated an income of US$ 76 by providing harvesting services to others for one more week.
“The demand for reaper services will increase in the dry season, and if weather conditions remain favorable, more than 20 hectares of land can be harvested by the machine,” said Mohammad Jahangir Jowarder, a reaper operator working with Rafiqul Islam.
The benefits extend beyond the farm and are helping make Rafiqul’s family life more comfortable. “Earlier, during the harvest season I could not sleep more than three hours per night. I had to prepare at least four meals for ten laborers as well as dry, thresh, pack and store around 80 kg of paddy every day. But this time it’s different. I am able to rest in the evenings – first time in 30 years!” laughed Rafiqul’s wife Shirin Sultana, who originally opposed the decision to invest in the machine. So far, local service providers have supported more than 6,000 farmers with this machine covering 2,200 ha of farm land.
“The reaper is fast becoming popular among farmers. In short time, 55 local service providers have bought the reaper and harvested more than 2,000 hectares of land of more than 6,000 farmers,” said Subrata Chakrabarty, Project Manager, CSISA-MI. “It can be the most extensively used technology for rice and wheat harvesting in the next five years in Bangladesh,” he added.
Funded by USAID, the Cereal Systems Initiative in South Asia – Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) Project – part of US President Obama’s Feed the Future (FtF) Initiative – is facilitating the market promotion of the reaper machine in collaboration with ACI. CSISA-MI seeks to transform agriculture in southern Bangladesh by unlocking the potential productivity of the region’s farmers during the dry season, while conserving the land’s ability to produce quality crops in the long term through surface water irrigation, efficient agricultural machinery and local service provision.
This article is authored by M. Shahidul Haque Khan, Communications Officer, CIMMYT-Bangladesh.
In India, farmers with large landholdings from prosperous agricultural states like Punjab can often buy expensive and sophisticated machines for their farm operations. However, resource-poor farmers from states such as Bihar and Odisha may not be able to afford the same machines or services and, given that their landholdings may be considerably smaller, may have different needs. Farmers all along the spectrum of landholdings need to be able to access differently priced appropriate machinery based on their specific requirements. Machinery for mechanized threshing is one such example.
For rice, mechanized threshing offers many advantages over manual threshing in terms of increased efficiency, reduced drudgery, cost and labor savings. Until recently, farmers in Bihar only had two options to choose from – the very large axial flow thresher that can cost up to Rs. 170,000 (US$ 2,700) after subsidy or the compact pedal-powered open drum thresher that has very low capacity and is difficult to operate for extended periods of time by women farmers, who are responsible for most threshing activities in India. The only medium-sized option was an electric motor powered open drum thresher available from other states, which was not effective as many farms in Bihar do not have reliable access to electricity.
“Farmers clearly needed a medium-sized, affordable, efficient and portable mechanical paddy thresher,” said Suryakanta Khandai, Postharvest Specialist, IRRI, who works for CSISA in Bihar. For most manufacturers and retailers in Bihar, however, importing such machines did not offer enough margin for profit. Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) approached local fabricators in Bihar to assemble and sell these threshers.
Khandai added, “We wanted to build a locally-relevant product so understanding the shortcomings of the existing options was important. The pedal-powered open drum thresher, for example, was prone to accidents with most users complaining that their clothes would often get caught in the exposed mechanism. The existing models also lacked winnowing or bagging functions, which were included in the new design. Besides giving it wheels, we also decided to use a diesel engine to power the machine to allow for threshing in the field immediately upon cutting, which would help reduce losses.”
The result was the diesel engine powered open drum thresher, which was assembled in collaboration with the local fabricator Durga Engineering Works. CSISA provided them the technical specifications and also gave advice on developing a profitable business model around it.
“It was a work in progress so we also had to make modifications along the way. For instance, we found that the 4.5 hp diesel engine was scattering the grains too far so we had to attach an additional covering plate. This not only reduces the scattering loss but also made the machine safer to operate,” informed Khandai.
In the end though, the effort was worth it as both the fabricator and farmers can now reap its benefits. “Threshing with this machine saves me time and money. Labor is both expensive and unreliable. Hiring one person for a day costs Rs. 200 (US$ 3.2) and in this time one laborer can only manage threshing 3 katha of rice,” says Pawan Kumar Singh, a smallholder farmer and user of the machine from Samastipur, Bihar. “But with this machine, one person can thresh 5 katha in an hour at just Rs. 150 per hour (US$ 2.4).” Katha is a local unit of area where 22 katha equals approximately 1 acre. This means it costs Rs. 1,500 (US$ 24) to hire one person to manually thresh 1 acre of rice in 7 days. Using the diesel engine powered open drum thresher, however, the same area could be covered in just over four hours with a total cost of Rs. 660 (US$ 10.5).
Singh also highlights the fact that mechanical threshing can prevent substantial postharvest losses. “Manual threshing of rice involves repeatedly beating the bundle to separate the grain from the chaff. This results in unnecessary losses since the grain gets scattered everywhere. Further, if the bundle is not thoroughly threshed, farmers can suffer losses of nearly 2 to 4 kg of rice. But with the machine, your output is 100 percent.”
Durga Engineering Works sells the diesel engine powered open drum thresher for Rs. 30,000 (US$ 483) at an estimated profit of Rs. 11,000 per machine (US$ 177). They have already sold 15 pieces and are looking to expand distribution into other parts of India as well. The machine was recently certified by the Farm Machinery Training and Testing Institute (FMTTI) in Jharkand, which is a prerequisite for a machine to be subsidized by the government.
This article is authored by Ashwamegh Banerjee, Assistant Communications Specialist, CSISA.
In mid-2013, after overhearing several conversations about CSISA-Nepal’s promotion of new scale-appropriate agricultural machinery with farmers in the Far West, Sumitra Manandhar-Gurung, CEO of Mahila Sahayatra Micro Finance Bittya Sanstha approached CSISA about whether its agricultural mechanization program might have something to offer her bank’s clients – women farmers who live mainly in the hill regions of Nepal.
Goats and Machines
Gurung asked, “Isn’t there something out there that I can give loans for besides goats? Can’t you show us some small powered machine, tractor or a small mill in the market that our women could take a loan for and provide services to their neighbors while earning a livelihood?”
In March 2014, CSISA Nepal placed an engineer, Sumana Parui, as an intern with Gurung’s bank, to explore the possibility of making micro-credit loans for small, powered and manually powered machinery to Mahila Sahayatra’s members. Parui spent two months in Chitlang village in Makwanpur district and two months in Holeri village in Rolpa district, where she provided several technical and business (local service provider) development trainings to women members and bank staff, a mechanics’ repair training as well as several farmer field days with machinery demonstrations.
Clockwise from top left: Machinery orientation and training in Chitlang; Demonstration of brush cutter in Holeri; Local mechanics’ training on the repair of the mini tiller and other machinery in Chitlang; Training on the use of the mini tiller for land preparation in Holeri.
Early on, the outcomes of these trainings were mixed. In Chitlang Valley, the first buyers of a mini-tiller, (a small rotavator-plow, powered by a 4.5 HP diesel engine) were Gyani (58 years old) and Saligram Manandhar (68 years old), who told CSISA how proud they were that they were able to take turns preparing their own land (nearly a hectare) for vegetables and rice, while their sons were working far away in Kathmandu. Manandhar related that in the last few years the few bullock plowmen remaining in the village were charging very high prices for their services and that by using the mini tiller in late spring and summer he saved nearly $200 (NPR 20,000) – half the price of the mini-tiller.
Since Manadhar purchased her machine in April 2014, five additional households, including a disabled woman bank member took a loan from Mahila Sahayatra to purchase the machine. Other equipment such as the powered brush-cutter (for the harvesting of wheat, rice fodder crops, etc.), pedaled (manual) open drum rice thresher and other implements for the mini-tiller such as cage wheels and furrow makers have also been sold. CSISA trained the local motorcycle mechanic in mini tiller repair and now he even stocks some spare parts.
Holeri Village in Rolpa District is different from Chitlang. Holeri lies in what was the epicenter of the Maoist Revolution and is much poorer and more remote. Parui arrived there in August 2014 and reported how difficult it was working there, not only due to the remoteness but because many farmers were negative about the machinery she was demonstrating. Leaving Holeri in October, she was dejected that not a single machine had been sold.
However, in December 2014 she started receiving phone calls from bank staff and women farmers who were interested in purchasing the small ½ HP electric-powered maize sheller. Bank staff sold it that week and then more farmers called, saying there were four or five more women interested in immediately purchasing maize shellers. Parui is currently in discussion with CSISA’s private sector collaborators (agro-vets and machinery agents) on how they could supply machinery to farmers in Holeri, for example by setting up a sales agency there.
Parui is currently in the process of finishing her report as well as preparing a catalog of scale- and gender-appropriate agricultural machinery, a document that will include photos, descriptions, prices and locations where they can be purchased in Nepal. Mahila Sahayatra requested the catalog for use across their locations.
CSISA and Mahila Sahayatra now agree that this initial experiment in marrying scale- and gender-appropriate agricultural machinery with a micro-credit institution has shown initial success and needs to be further formalized, including through formal tie-ups between Mahila Sahayatra and private sector machinery providers that would supply not only the machinery but also training and servicing of the machinery (e.g., repair, spare parts). Discussions about the partnership’s next steps and how to fund them are ongoing.
Agricultural 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.