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close this bookCERES No. 096 - November - December 1983 (FAO Ceres, 1983, 50 p.)
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View the documentIntroducing the ox

Introducing the ox

Sierra Leone has found that a successful draught animal programme depends on continuing evaluation as well as careful planning

Use of draught animals on Sierra Leone farms dates from 1929, when a few small projects were begun with N'Dama work oxen. Uneven distribution of cattle, both geographically and ethnically, and the scarcity of suitable equipment hindered the widespread adoption of draught animals, but where they were introduced, their use persisted. In 1938 it was reported that there was "little doubt that the use of the ox plough could be successful in Sierra Leone if sufficient time and attention could be devoted to the necessary investigational work."

Regrettably, no work of this type was carried out during the subsequent 40 years. The Sierra Leone Department of Agriculture started one ox-training programme in 1950, but abandoned it after a few years as emphasis shifted to development of mechanical cultivation. A recent investigation into the apparent failure of this ox-ploughing scheme revealed that the project had actually been a remarkable success from the farmers' point of view. By 1983 the technology had passed down two generations and more than half the original ox ploughs, now 33 years old, were in regular use despite a complete lack of spare parts and government support for a quarter of a century.

Competing with tractors.

During the 1970s another attempt to introduce draught animals into Sierra Leone was made, this time as part of a rice development programme sponsored by a bilateral donor. Unfortunately, the attempt failed. In hindsight' it is easy to see two reasons for this. First, the ox-drawn equipment came from an overseas supplier without any preliminary field evaluation and apparently no attempt to adapt the equipment to local conditions. Although the design had been highly successful in Asia, it was unsuitable for use with the small N'Dama cattle of Sierra Leone. Second, there was no incentive to adopt the draught animal technology, since it was introduced at the same time and in the same place as power tillers and tractors provided under the same bilateral aid programme. With the tractors available for tillage at a purely nominal charge, farmers were naturally not interested in the draught animals. As a result, when the bilateral project stopped and the tractors finally broke down, the farmers were left with nothing, quite unlike the farmers of the earlier scheme, who still had their technology 25 years after the end of the project.

With interest in draught animals stimulated by research at Njala University College. the Sierra Leone Government established a national project in 1980 to investigate and develop the use of work oxen. Now three years old, this project has developed an operational methodology which might be of value to other countries intending to coordinate work on draught animals at a national level. A national committee was set up under the chairmanship of the Chief Agriculturist, the technical head of the Ministry of Agriculture. It consists of representatives of the university and research workers, representatives of the large integrated agricultural development projects and smaller draught animal extension programmes, regional agricultural extension officers, and representatives of the veterinary ministry and of aid donors. The committee has overall responsibility for the Sierra Leone Work Oxen Project and meets twice a year to review the progress of the draught animal programme and to formulate and direct project policy. The bringing together of different ministries. research institutions, development projects and aid donors and the regular circulation of reports and documents have created a vital sense of involvement in the project among the agriculturists and administrators in the various disciplines and organizations.

Assessment of information.

Before the national draught animal programme was begun, information was sought within the country. in surrounding countries (Senegal, the Gambia, and Guinea) and in international literature. Besides technical reference works, specific case histories were found particularly valuable, such as Dr Mattrick's evaluation of a draught animal programme in the Gambia. The value of studying the experiences of other programmes was felt so acutely that the project resolved to publish reports of its work, whether or not its objectives were ultimately met.

Equipment evaluation.

A principal aim of the project was to identify a suitable range of ox-cultivation and ox-transport equipment. The ploughs used successfully in the period 193050 were no longer available, and so samples of equipment imported from neighbouring countries and from European and Asian manufacturers were tested along-side some locally fabricated equipment. Ploughs were first tested on the university farm, at a government livestock station, and at a small research farm, and certain designs were eliminated immediately because of their excessive draught requirement or poor ploughing performance. The following season, in addition to on-station testing, samples of the more promising ploughs were lent to farmers in nine villages in parts of the country where oxen were already in use. The farmers proved to be excellent evaluators of equipment, and weak parts of the designs or manufacturing processes were soon apparent as components failed and broke under the harsh conditions of village use. Plough designs that had stood a season of use on-station, began to fail after a few weeks of severe testing by farmers, and the exercise of maintaining the trial ploughs in good condition in the remote villages provided much evidence of the need for simple and strong equipment design. A sheared bolt or minor welding fault produces few problems at a university or government station, but if a heavy plough frame has to be carried a day's journey to the nearest welding equipment, the importance of an easily repairable design is made painfully clear.

The importance of local pilot field evaluation cannot be too strongly stated. For example, during a season of on-farm testing, the farmers universally rejected as inappropriate a design widely evaluated and successfully used elsewhere. in West Africa.

After two years of testing, a range of appropriate equipment designs was selected, although further testing and evaluation continues. The plough design is based on an imported plough that has been extensively modified in cooperation with the designer of the original model. It can be used as a simple plough and as a multipurpose toolbar to take accessories such as weeding tines or seed drills. Thus it has the potential to be used for multipurpose row-cropping operations. All clamping systems are removable in the event of breakage, so that only small units, and not the whole plough, have to be carried for repair or replacement. This plough is now being made in a Ministry of Agriculture Workshop in Sierra Leone, initially using many imported components. The decision to opt for local fabrication was not based entirely on economic criteria, for the initial market is likely to be too small to justify an independent and commercially viable manufacturing operation. A national source of ploughs and spare parts, however, will allow the various integrated agricultural development projects to standardize with a tested and suitable design.

Research and development.

Other research and development carried out by the Sierra Leone Project uses a methodology similar to that used in equipment evaluation. Innovative techniques and equipment used in training, harnessing and field operations are first tested for a season at the university and at two government livestock stations in different parts of the country. In this initial testing, comparative trials are often made using replicated, randomized designs, so that differences in operation times and yields may be analysed statistically. The following season, farmers try the successful techniques and equipment innovations on their own farms in 10 villages around the country, with close supervision by project extension staff. If the farmers accept and welcome the new techniques and equipment, the innovations are recommended for widespread adoption through the normal agricultural extension programmes. If there is doubt, another season of testing by farmers is undertaken. In this way farmers have been testing new harnessing methods, the use of ridging ploughs for growing groundnuts and sweet potatoes, the use of seeders and inter-row cultivators for growing upland rice and groundnuts, and the use of ox-drawn harrows and levelers for swamp rice production.

Extension, training and publicity.

The Sierra Leone Work Oxen Project is primarily a catalyst organization; the principal extension work with draught animals is to be done by the Integrated Agricultural Development Projects (IADPs), supported by the World Bank and the European Community. The Work Oxen Project is working closely with the IADPs to develop extension programmes, training schemes and credit packages to enable the draught animal sector to expand. Thus the Work Oxen Project is able to concentrate on research, development, monitoring, evaluation and dissemination of information, while the large IADPs use their existing manpower and organizational structures to implement the recommended extension, training and credit programmes. The Work Oxen Project provides the technical training for IADP personnel, and these extension workers and ox trainers are then responsible to the various IADPs for training the farmers and oxen in their particular areas. Present policies favour the training of oxen in villages, rather than at special training centres, so that the whole village can observe the simple ox-training procedures. This method is labour intensive for ox trainers and extension workers, but stimulates much valuable interest in the village and ensures that ox training is not associated with the mystery of special training centres. However, farmers are encouraged to visit livestock stations where oxen are used, and regular week-long courses are held for farmers who wish to learn more about animal husbandry and ox-cultivation techniques and to practice using more specialized equipment, such as ox carts, ox seeders and inter-row cultivators. To contact farmers, the project staff visits villages, participates in district and provincial agricultural shows, and has started a national ox-ploughing competition, with special prizes for the best newly trained animals, as well as prizes for overall ploughing quality and animal control.

The Sierra Leone Work Oxen Project is relatively young, and the absolute number of draught animals in Sierra Leone, although increasing, is small. Nevertheless, the project has established a structured research, development and extension programme through the close cooperation of government ministries, the university, development projects and aid donors. The programme of thorough evaluation of equipment and techniques at research stations and by selected farmers first precedes and then continues simultaneously with extension work, which is carried out in the context of agricultural development projects. An integral part of the project is exchange of information, carried out in cooperation with bilateral and multilateral aid donors and neighbouring countries. In this way it is hoped that the coordinated international development of draught animal power will be achieved.