Hoe, harrow, hoe
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CTA. 2001. Hoe, harrow, hoe. Spore 93. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46167
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore93.pdf
Simple straightforward technologies and tools still provide the basis for much agricultural production and processing. After decades of dissemination strategies, experimental workshops and small-scale industrialisation, a spade is a spade is a...
Simple straightforward technologies and tools still provide the basis for much agricultural production and processing. After decades of dissemination strategies, experimental workshops and small-scale industrialisation, a spade is a spade is a spade. The perfect spade is still a long way away. Take two proverbs. One: 'A woman s work is never done.' And two: 'A good workman never blames his tools.' With the first one, few people would dare to differ, particularly in the context of ACP agriculture. The second one is more difficult, even if we replace the word workman with workperson , at least in our thoughts. After all, everybody likes to be proud of, and praised for, their work and regarded as an excellent craftsperson. If the results of your labours are not as good as you want them to be, then it is a bit self-defeating to blame your tools. Far better to improve your technique. That is the ideal, and how we would all like that to be the case. In reality it is often the tool that is to be blamed for imperfect results and yields in the field or the processing plant, alongside unfortunate timing with inputs and harvests, storage issues and the unpredictable elements of the weather. Just focusing on tools alone, even simple hand tools are poorly designed or badly finished, and this leads to inefficient use. Since much small-scale agricultural equipment is used primarily by women, it is no wonder that their work as farmers is never fully done. The challenge of designing tools Sometimes the apparent simplicity of the task at hand, let us say of hoeing weeds or shelling maize cobs, hides the need for sophistication. Behind the apparent simplicity of a tool, however, for it to be efficient and effective, there lies a complex web of requirements. The issues range from an implement s design, durability and ease of use, to its accessibility in terms of cost and availability and, above all, its cultural acceptance. The rough-and-ready nature of many agricultural implements belies the importance of scientific precision in their design. Take a simple hoe. There are almost endless considerations at play: the shape of the handle and of the hand that will hold it, its length, weight and centre of gravity, its ease of movement, the angle of the blade to hit and enter the ground and loosen the roots of weeds. These are topics on which many agriculturally-minded designers and village blacksmiths of recent generations have spent much time, seeking to develop a more appropriate hoe. There are many variations on a hoe, varying from locality to locality within a country, and varying even more from region to region, or across a country. The hoe has, after all, been developed by its users literally over thousands of years. Yet, whatever model one takes, its straightforward design is still subject to controversy. To its users, it may be as perfect as can be imagined. There is much to be said for a pragmatic assessment of the scientific correctness of a design which is based on generations of usage. In this sense, the village technology approach is a blend of common-sense and scientific sense, and should not be dismissed, as some modernists would have us do, as romantic and nostalgic yearnings for days that will never return. However, to a specialist in ergonomics, which is the efficient use of human or animal energy in manipulating a piece of equipment, the same traditional design may offend all fundamental rules of efficiency in physics. Who is right, and who is wrong? Should the handle be long, and thus allow the user to keep a straight back and avoid pain and discomfort, or should it be short and allow the bent-over user to more easily pick up and discard uprooted weeds? The right answer makes an incredible difference to the health of the user and the speed with which they can work, and also to the yield of the crop (see box). The users literally change shape There is perhaps no single perfect hoe. Even if one were designed to match the requirements of the prevailing physique of its users, it may stumble across cultural issues, or increasingly the changing needs of its users. In many places, the physionomy of the rural population is changing. Dietary changes may be affecting height and weight, but this is a factor of lesser importance than the changes underway in the age structure of the productive population. Over recent decades, the phenomenon of migration to the town, or to employment in plantations elsewhere or industries in other countries, has noticeably changed the population structure of the village. Many rural communities have tilted heavily towards a population that consists predominantly of females, children and adolescent youths and the elderly. The implications of these changes on the design of agricultural implements are as obvious as they are under-estimated. All this is being exacerbated, as we read these lines, by the slashing intrusion of AIDS on entire populations. The removal of up to 20% and more of the productive groups in a community is as deadly for the future as it is for the present. Again as many specialist meetings have been pointing out of late there is an urgent need to reconsider the position and the needs of the surviving communities, not least in the types and shapes of tools they can use for working to ensure their food security. The ergonomics of hand-held implements for early teenage girls, for example, may not be the preferred theme on which an industrial designer would like to make a name, but it is a theme that will soon require, no, does require, now, much more attention. Can they rise to the challenge? From dissemination to sales Such design issues were perhaps not widely present in the minds of agricultural strategists a few decades ago. In the sixties and seventies of the last century, the emphasis was on replication of small-scale equipment, by drastically increasing the numbers of implements produced in a country in an affordable way for use at village level. The intention: to remove or at least lighten the drudgery of manual agricultural and processing tasks and increase productivity by heightening efficiency and reducing losses. From hoes to small-scale oil presses, hand-shellers to pedal-powered grinders and small bottling and canning plants to hand-carts, the lists of tools were long. This was the time where for those days, amazingly detailed and innovative guides to simple equipment were being published. Works such as the Village Technology Handbook, First Steps to Village Mechanisation and Tools for Agriculture opened up access to new ideas. In some novel exchanges of technology transfer, designs were copied and adapted between blacksmiths and agricultural engineers alike in different countries within Africa, and the Caribbean and the Pacific and between continents. Designs from Brazil, India and Japan, to name but the three most notable sources of appropriate agricultural equipment from outside the ACP group, were replicated widely. The major thrust, up to the 1990s, was to produce equipment with subsidised production facilities, and to disseminate the implements in subsidised distribution schemes, with the intention of building up a market that would, finally, become viable. This route was followed by the Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation and Technology in Tanzania, or the Société africaine d études de développement in SAED (Sahel, from Burkina Faso to Senegal), and small workshops in, for example, Swaziland, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Cameroon. Often though, the development of the local industrial capacity has been hampered by lack of access to credit for both producers and customers; these shortcomings are being increasingly addressed by credit lines and associated activities from, for example, the Centre for the Development of Enterprise, and the Africa Project Development Facility of the World Bank Group. Competition from manufacturers of machines and equipment from such large markets as the southern United States, India, China and Brazil is now the principal constraint. The need is, somehow, to nurture local production and ingenuity so that the essential steps of village mechanisation can be of the village, and not at the village. To upgrade the image of local technology by emphasising its cultural connections and its scientific common sense would appear to be the way forward. That would attract the inputs, creative and financial, of designers and investors. These are essential for local production and processing to attain the required levels of quality and quantity. [caption to illustration] Hand tools can carry tremendous force