3-D Printer for Small Holder African Farmers and Agricultural Development  

A Program for labour saving agricultural technologies for smallholder women farmers

 The overall goal of the farmer participatory 3D4AgDev Program is to link the potential of User-Led Innovation with Rapid Prototyping (via 3D printing) to enable women smallholder farmers in Africa to design and develop their own labour-saving agricultural tools, tailor-made for their culture, soils and cropping systems. The 3D4AgDev Program has been kickstarted by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE) Phase I grant to the Plant & AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) in the National University of Ireland Galway.

The 3D4AgDev Program is a research partnership program between the NUI Galway PABC and Concern Worldwide which aims to operate as an open-innovation research platform to harness advances in rapid prototyping so that improved labour-saving technologies can be more effectively developed for and by women smallholder farmers.

 

The need for labour-saving agricultural technologies for smallholder women farmers

The overall goal of the farmer participatory 3D4AgDev Program is to link the potential of User-Led Innovation with Rapid Prototyping (via 3D printing) to enable women smallholder farmers in Africa to design and develop their own labour-saving agricultural tools, tailor-made for their culture, soils and cropping systems. The 3D4AgDev Program has been kickstarted by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE) Phase I grant to the Plant & AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) in the National University of Ireland Galway. The 3D4AgDev Program is a research partnership program between the NUI Galway PABC and Concern Worldwide.

Over 1000 million smallholder farmers (predominantly women) are farming using labour intensive agricultural hand tools. Such agricultural tools include tools for tasks such as weeding, planting, harvesting and crop/food processing. Smallholder agricultural systems remain largely dependent on human labour, having minimal access to alternative energy sources for cultivation and agri-processing such as draught animals or fossil-fuel powered mechanization.

Routes out of poverty for smallholder rural communities will require a swathe of innovations that improve the labour productivity of their agricultural systems. Smallholder farmers living on less than a dollar a day face this challenge in an era when energy demand and energy costs are increasing to their disadvantage. The innovation challenge is how to enable smallholders to generate more income and agricultural produce while reducing the labour burden on women and rural children so that their livelihoods can improve.

Harnessing user-led innovation of women smallholder farmers

User-led innovation refers to incorporating the opinions, knowledge, and circumstances of end users into the designs of products that those people will be using. Sounds like common sense, but traditional manufacturing often has difficulty applying special customizations since it focuses on mass production to keep cost effective. The plan is to start in Tanzania; women farmers will be involved in the design of the tools they need and prototypes will be printed. A very few tools could be functional in plastic format, like small shovels and germination equipment. Most of farming is a bit more intensive though, so the prototypes will be taken to local blacksmiths to copy, likely with casting.

User-led innovation is increasingly used to develop consumer products  (toys, sports equipment, etc.) and rapid prototyping using 3D printers is now widely used by industrial designers.By linking user-led innovation approaches with rapid 3D prototyping the design process for agricultural tools can be turned upside down. Women smallholder farmers lacking formal education can design agricultural hand tools and household food processing equipment to meet their own needs. Local tool manufacturers (artisans, blacksmiths) can copy plastic prototypes and develop their own modifications to ensure that agricultural tools are suited to both smallholder farmer needs and purchasing power.

Facilitating rural enterprise & labour-saving impacts through 3D printing rapid-prototyping technologies

The 3D4AgDev Program aims a participatory technology development program with women smallholders farmers so that the farmers can develop their own agricultural tool and labour-saving innovations. Labour saving tools for women smallholders can have major impacts, including leading to higher yields, higher incomes, more time for other activities, and reductions in harmful child labour in rural areas. Through linking the women smallholder farmer groups to rapid-prototyping user innovation processes, there is significant potential to improve the status of rural women through fostering an enterprise-oriented “maker culture” for agri-tool innovations.

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