Published: Thursday, 02 Feb 2017
Author: Katie Deska
Department: Global Center for Food Systems Innovation
Of the 52 million people who call Tanzania home, 70 percent are farmers by trade, relying on tractors or hand tools to plant seeds year after year. While the efficiency of hand tools pales in comparison to the use of a tractor, the tractor is too expensive for many households.
Salim Msury, an engineering student at the country's Arusha Technical College, sought to develop a low-cost alternative, which he has been actively testing in nearby villages. Made possible through the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, one of USAID's eight global development labs established by the agency's Higher Education Solutions Network, the two-in-one mechanical soil ripper and seed planter is a simple, yet innovative tool that hits the sweet spot of affordability and productivity.
Rolled along the ground like a wheelbarrow, it slices a small trench in the soil with a narrow point. As it moves down the row – either pushed by humans, or pulled by livestock – seeds automatically drop from a container into the soil. By combining the ripping and planting process with a single tool, it saves farmers time and conserves labor costs.
Because Msury's ripper and planter is cheaper than a tractor, yet more efficient than traditional hand tools, the innovation has been well received in the field. However, he experienced some pushback from farmers who prefer the tractor's ability to till a more sizable swath of land with ease.
In response, Msury engaged in conversations with farmers about land conservation, and discussed how tractors can contribute to soil erosion, further aggravating the impacts of drought. Once farmers understand how the ripper and planter saves time by combining the ripping and planting process into a single mechanism – and also protects their land, they are eager to give it a try, said Msury.
Dedicated to improving the tool, he and his team collected feedback from farmers who tested it, and refined the design accordingly.
Elirehema Petro, a local farmer in the Engorora village of Arusha, provided Msury with an idea for improvement, stating, "it has a good ripping but it needs to have a depth control and a guide or mark for the animals to follow in order to make a ripping path straight."
The latest generation is made primarily out of steel and accommodates soft and semi-hard soil. It's designed to drop seeds with adequate spacing for maize crops, though Msury would like to engineer attachments for the machine that would allow the user to plant different types of seeds, depending on spacing and size requirements.
With agricultural goods contributing to 30 percent of Tanzania's export profits, "there is big money in farming and there are a lot of cash crops," said Msury, "But it has to be done in an efficient way."