| Animal-Drawn Wheeled Toolcarriers: Perfected yet Rejected |
|6. Experience in Latin America: 1979-1986|
In Mexico animal-drawn plows, ridgers and inter-row cultivators are widely used, and there are about 4.2 million draft animals, of which 2.8 million are draft cattle and the others are horses, mules and donkeys (Ramaswamy, 1981). In the early 1970s an NIAE-designed wheeled toolcarrier had been tested on a research station and a university had made an original prototype, but there had been no projects aimed at promoting these implements.
In 1980 the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agricolas (INIA), with technical cooperation support from the British NIAE, started a project to evaluate animal traction equipment and assist the establishment of the commercial production of the prototypes found to be most suitable. Initial work included farm surveys, the testing of several implements including at least one Mouzon Tropicultor and visits by specialists such as Jean Nolle and Alan Stokes. Following these it was decided to complement the animal-drawn equipment already readily available with some new designs. The equipment selected for fabrication included a simple toolbar (the Multibarra based on the Anglebar design of the British agricultural engineer Alan Stokes), an adjustable ridger-cultivator, a disc harrow, a zero-tillage jab planter, and a Nikart-type wheeled toolcarrier that could be used for conventional tillage operations and also zero-tillage applications (Sims, 1984; Sims, Moreno and Albarran, 1984, Sims, 1985).
The Mexican version of the wheeled toolcarrier, the Yunticultor ("yunta" means a pair of oxen), was based on the ICRISAT/NIAE toolcarrier, commonly known as the Nikart. The specific advantages of the Yunticultor over traditional implements were cited as:
- the timesaving larger working width,
- the more efficient use of animal power,
- the multipurpose use (avoiding the necessity to buy many implements),
- the comfort of the seat to the operator (Sims, 1985).
However the great disadvantage was the price of over $ 1000 for the recommended package, compared with $ 200 for the simple toolbar with implements. As a result of the large price differences, the simple toolbar has been found to be more profitable for small farmers than either the wheeled toolcarrier or the traditional implements (Sims, 1985; Olmstead, Johnston and Sims, 1986). The simple toolbar is now being commercially manufactured by private workshops, with 1000 units being made by 1986.
The wheeled toolcarrier has been made in much smaller numbers. In the first instance two privately owned urban workshops were assisted to start production. One of these workshops subsequently closed when its owner died. The other made several units but experienced problems in obtaining the necessary raw materials and in ensuring quality control. It failed to establish a significant market for its toolcarriers and thus turned to more commercially attractive products. By 1986/87 the private workshop only made Yunticultors occasionally, when it received specific orders. The government-backed Servicios Ejidales (SESA) was persuaded to make fifty Yunticultors in 1985-1986 for the State of Oaxaca and so became the main toolcarrier manufacturer in Mexico. In 1986, SESA anticipated to continue production at a rate of at least fifty per year, subject entirely to specific state orders and finance.
In early 1987 there were about one hundred Yunticultors in use in Mexico, with future production of another hundred being guaranteed by state funds. Some innovative farmers who had heard of the implement had requested plans or models so they can try to make their own units (B. Sims, personal communication, 1986). Only a few of the units manufactured to date have been bought by farmers, as most have been owned by government agencies, projects and research stations. The wheeled toolcarriers are now being actively promoted by the government and ten Yunticultors have been given as prizes at state fairs. Officials have been happy to be photographed riding on the Yunticultor as a means of showing solidarity with the small farmers.
While promotional literature has emphasised the increased profitability of wheeled toolcarriers over traditional implements (Sims, Moreno and Albarran, 1985), the small size of many holdings makes it difficult to justify investment in such implements. Indeed the high cost of the wheeled toolcarrier meant that its use was described as more capital-intensive than tractor-based systems of production (Olmstead et al., 1986). This apparent anomaly is based on the investment costs of equipment per unit area, and the ease of hiring tractors allows their capital costs to be spread over a wide area. In theory the overhead capital costs of the toolcarrier could also be spread more widely through hiring or through sharing within families or villages. However such systems have not developed and Mexican farmers have given very negative reactions to the suggestion that Yunticultors could be shared (Olmstead et al., 1986).
More recent economic studies carried out by staff of NIAE have suggested that the use of the wheeled toolcarrier could be economically viable in Mexico, but that capital availability would be the major constraint. This problem will be overcome for an initial fifty farmers in Oaxaca State which is planning to provide interest-free credit.
With the present programmes of subsidies and promotion, numbers of toolcarriers in use in Mexico will certainly increase in the short term. However it is too early to assess whether or not there will be any sustained adoption by the farmers in the longer term, but the apparent increasing popularity and significantly higher profitability of the simpler toolbar may be a sign of the possible trends.