| Animal-Drawn Wheeled Toolcarriers: Perfected yet Rejected |
|6. Experience in Latin America: 1979-1986|
In Brazil about 20% of farmers presently use animal traction. A total of about seven million draft animals are employed, one third of them oxen and the rest horses, mules and donkeys, and about 1.7 million simple plows are in use in the country (Reds and Baron, 1985).
During the period 1965 - 1975 there was at least one small research trial with NIAE designed wheeled toolcarriers in Brazil, but this does not appear to have led to any promotional schemes. In recent years animal traction has become a more important area of research, with technical cooperation inputs from CEEMAT and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA).
Prototype wheeled toolcarriers based on the ICRISAT version of the Tropicultor were developed in 1979 by Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria (EMBRAPA) at its Centro de Pesquisa Agropecuaria do Tropico Semi-Arido (CPATSA). The prototype "Multicultor CPATSA I" seemed to catch the imagination of many, for following a national television programme, EMBRAPA received nearly 1000 enquiries from farmers, industrialists, institutes and traders requesting details (Lal, 1985). As a result of the apparent enthusiasm for wheeled toolcarriers, in 1981 two workshops started to produce toolcarriers based on the NIAE/ ICRISAT (Nikart) design (ITDG, 1985) but few units were ever made in these short lived initiatives.
CPATSA developed a second prototype "Multicultor CPATSA II" in 1981/82 which was an original design not based on either the Tropicultor or the Nikart models. However, early attempts to manufacture the CPATSA toolcarriers in cooperation with a local workshop were beset with technical and quality control problems, and the initial units did not stand up to rigorous field testing (Lal, 1985). As a result of these problems and the rapid progress of a parallel EMBRAPA/CEEMAT project, enthusiasm for the Multicultors CPATSA rapidly declined. CPATSA continued to work on designs of implements and cultivation systems to be used in conjunction with wheeled toolcarriers, but not on the toolcarriers themselves. Work was undertaken on a cultivation system intermediate between simple ridge cultivation and broadbeds. This was known as the W-form soil management system, and it made use of wheeled toolcarriers to carry grader-blades for the formation of wide, gently sloping ridges (Lal, 1986).
The EMBRAPA/CEEMAT scheme involving a major agricultural machinery manufacturer proved to be more successful in terms of achieved toolcarrier production. This initiative started in 1980 with the importation of eighteen sets of implements based on designs of Jean Nolle and manufactured by the French company Mouzon. These included six Tropicultors, three Arianas and two Houe Sine toolbars. Following a few months of on-station and on-farm trials in four states, twenty-four locally fabricated models were tested in nine states in 1981 (da Cunha Silva, 1982). By May 1982 a commercially manufactured range of three toolbars was launched under the name of Policultor (CEMAG, undated). The simplest, the Policultor 300, was based on the Houe Sine, the Policultor 600 was based on the Ariana while the wheeled toolcarrier, the Policultor 1500, was derived from the Tropicultor. In the first three years a total of seven hundred Policultor-1500 wheeled toolcarriers were reported to have been manufactured (Barbosa dos Anjos, 1985). In 1985 production of toolcarriers continued at the same level, 230 per year. The number manufactured in 1986 dropped to 147, and this rate of production continued into the first quarter of 1987 when thirty-four were made (CEMAG, personal communication, 1987).
The majority of wheeled toolcarriers were distributed to demonstration farms managed in cooperation with the extension services but physically based on the land of selected master farmers or community leaders (Reds and Baron, 1985).
The Policultor-1500 wheeled toolcarrier made by CEMAG is similar in versatility to the Tropicultor from which it is derived. It has a range of twenty implements that can be used including mouldboard and disc plows, ridgers, planters, and several different designs of tines, harrows and pulverizers. There is a range of equipment for distributing granular and liquid manures, and a hay rake option. Transport variations include carts and water tanks. The Policultor 1500 can be supplied with metal wheels and in addition to the version designed for use by a pair of oxen, the standard chassis can be attached to twin shafts for use with a single animal, or adapted for use by two donkeys or mules (CEMAG, undated).
It is too early to know how successful this wheeled toolcarrier programme will be in Brazil, for they have only been used by farmers for a few seasons and the initial manufacture and distribution of equipment have been subsidized. The general trend in production in the period 1984 - 1987 suggests a gradual decline rather than a strong acceleration.
Most workers involved in the wheeled toolcarrier programme seemed optimistic about their potential (Barbosa doe Anjos, 1985; Lal, 1985; Reis and Baron, 1985). The fact that farmers can sit on the wheeled toolcarriers is considered psychologically important in Brazil and attractive presentations of animal traction are an integral part of agricultural development policies in some states (Agriculture Parana, 1984).
However there has been at least one note of caution, for in a paper presented at a CEEMAT seminar on animal traction Bertaux (1985) counselled against the automatic assumption that multipurpose equipment is desirable in Brazil. He presented examples to show that, while the Policultor l500 could perform all the operations required on an 8 ha farm, similar operations could be performed using simpler and cheaper implements. In addition the simpler implements might also favour mixed cropping and intensification. The wheeled toolcarriers might appear well suited to the perceived need to increase cropping areas, but research in different disciplines in Brazil had shown effective methods of increasing yields on land already cropped, and many farms in the 2050 ha range had cultivation intensities of less than 50%. Bertaux argued for a farming system approach to agricultural equipment research and development, particularly in determining whether the farmers' objectives were to increase their area cultivated or intensify production on existing land.
Two factors that might favour the adoption of wheeled toolcarriers in Brazil include the fact that a quarter of the farms in the 2050 ha range use animal traction, and the fact that in much of Brazil, oxen are large, weighing about 750 kg (Reds and Baron, 1985). However Bertaux (1985) gave examples of how, by combining the use of oxen, horses and donkeys with a simpler range of implements and a cart, similar benefits might be achieved. Bertaux also cited many of the constraints to the effective development of new equipment designs in Brazil, including lack of material standards, delays, inflation and great differences in blacksmith skills. Bertaux did not entirely reject the concept of the wheeled toolcarriers, but he argued strongly that one should learn from past mistakes and that given the existing infrastructure and farming systems in Brazil it might be better to deploy resources in developing solutions of more immediate relevance. Unfortunately the arguments and examples that Bertaux presented at the CEEMAT seminar were not included in the official proceedings, and only a summary of his contribution was published (Bertaux, 1985).
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.
In Nicaragua animal traction is widespread, and based on traditional arc-type wooden prows and wooden carts with large wheels in the more isolated areas. Steel equipment imported from the USA is more common in the areas around towns. Since 1982 CEEMAT has been closely involved in the development of animal traction equipment through its associations with the National Appropriate Technology Research Centre (CITA) and an EEC-supported project with an animal traction component. In 1982 the French equipment designer Jean Nolle visited Nicaragua to establish the production of a small number (10-25) of toolbars and before leaving he had fabricated one Tropicultor wheeled toolcarrier, and one Ariana intermediate toolframe.
One of the CEEMAT workers involved with the project appeared to be highly pessimistic about the future of toolcarrier production (Bordet, 1985). On the production side there were problems relating to cost of production, insufficient trained manpower, a lack of raw materials of suitable quality, and the limited resources and skills of village blacksmiths. More importantly perhaps, there were also serious doubts as to whether multipurpose equipment was actually desirable.
Most cooperatives in Nicaragua have several pairs of animals, and if single purpose implements are used, different pairs can be plowing, harrowing and transporting at the same time. However, should they be equipped with one wheeled toolcarrier, it could only perform one operation at a time. The wheeled toolcarriers thus have the disadvantage of being less flexible than a comparable range of single purpose implements and did not appear to have any compensating technical advantages in performance over the simpler implements. The heavier weight and restricted manoeuvrability of the wheeled toolcarriers make them unsuitable for use in the mountainous areas. Finally for the price of a Tropicultor wheeled toolcarrier in Nicaragua it would be possible to buy a whole range of simpler implements, including a cart made of imported steel (Bordet, 1985). Thus the early impressions suggest that there is unlikely to be a genuine market demand for wheeled toolcarriers in Nicaragua in the near future.
In Honduras pairs of oxen are widely used to pull traditional wooden prows and wooden carts. Jean Nolle carried out a consultancy involving the local fabrication of Tropicultor toolcarriers in 1972. This programme appears to have been small and short-lived, for an agricultural engineer involved in toolcarrier development in Honduras from 1985 to 1987 had not come across any Tropicultors in the course of his work (D. Tinker, personal communication, 1987).
Between 1982 and 1985 the Unidad de Desarrollo y Adaptacion (UDA) of the Natural Resources Ministry with technical cooperation from ODA and USAID made about fifteen wheeled toolcarriers. These were based on the Yunticultor of Mexico, a derivative of the ICRISAT/NIAE Nikart design. All of these were lent to farmers for evaluation and an indication of their acceptability. The general acceptability of the Yunticultors was low. This was mainly due to the large change in the farming system implied by Yunticultor use and the high investment cost of about US $ 2000. Even if it were intrinsically profitable, such an investment would represent a large risk for a small farmer.
The low farmer acceptability combined with the high cost and problems of local manufacture meant that the programme was nearly terminated in 1985. However the toolcarrier was considered by the UDA as prestigious, for it could give an impressive performance at field demonstrations, where it was shown as a high quality "ox-tractor" for ride-on plowing, disc-harrowing, ridging and cultivating. It was therefore decided to undertake a major redesign of the Yunticultor with the objective of reducing the cost and increasing the ease of manufacture. The initial model of Yunticultor/Nikart used several components that had to be cut with gas from thick steel plate. It also had wheel hubs based on the Ambassador car widely used in India, but unavailable in Central America. Work on a Mark II Yunticultor started in 1985, and was designed to be made only from locally available materials such as angle-iron, and to have all cutting based on hacksaws. The main chassis frame member originally made of galvanized pipe was replaced with a box section made from two angle-irons. This was considered stronger and the straight edges facilitated jig construction and use (Tinker, 1986).
By 1987 UDA had built four Mk II Yunticultors and through the various design modifications the anticipated "commercial" cost of the Mk II had been reduced to about US $ 1500. This price did not include any seeder, as the only implements available were prows, ridgers, tines and a cart body. It is accepted that the Yunticultor Mk II is still likely to be too expensive for use by peasant farmers. Therefore any promotion will be aimed at either groups of farmers or entrepreneurs interested in developing hire services with toolcarriers. It was planned that the Mk II toolcarrier would be initially promoted on a very small scale by two NGO charities. One NGO workshop was to make five toolcarriers in 1987 for use with peasant groups, while a second charity was intending to buy two in order to encourage contract hiring.
There appears to be little optimism relating to short-term prospects for wheeled toolcarriers in Honduras. It is generally accepted the design changes will not have significantly altered the reasons for the present low acceptability of the implements in existing farming systems. Nevertheless it has been argued that continued work on wheeled toolcarriers may be justified by possible future applications within new farming systems. These include deep beds for vegetable production and broadbed contour farming for soil and water conservation. Thus in 1988/89 research trials may be undertaken involving the use of wheeled toolcarriers for vegetable- production (D. Tinker, personal communication, 1987).
Wheeled toolcarriers have proved technically competent in Honduras, but they have not been found economically appropriate in existing farming systems. Honduras is therefore searching for a possible application for these implements, and this is likely to be a long-term task. Thus there is, at present, no evidence to suggest that wheeled toolcarriers will be adopted by farmers in Honduras.
In Chile, Jean Nolle adapted his Tropicultor design for the use of horses in 1969 and some NIAE toolcarriers were tested in the early 1970s. In 1985, a single Sahall wheeled toolcarrier was sent to the University of Conception for evaluation. This University continued its research interest in wheeled toolcarriers and in 1986 was working to develop a horse-drawn toolcarrier suitable for use in Chile.
Jean Nolle visited Paraguay in 1977. Following successful demonstrations of a Tropicultor in use, a coordinating committee to introduce wheeled toolcarriers in Paraguay was formed in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (Development Forum, 1978). It was envisaged that ten Tropicultors would be manufactured and tested in different parts of the country, with the technical support of Mouzon and finance from the French Government. It was considered that the Tropicultor would be ideal for increasing cotton and other agricultural production in the east of the country, as well as for developing the western semi-arid plain, the Chacao (Development Forum, 1978). Details how this scheme developed appear difficult to come by, but there seems no indication that it was markedly successful.
A small number of Mouzon Tropicultors were tested in El Salvador between 1977 and 1980 (Mouzon, 1978). Jean Nolle also visited Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.
Some NIAE-type wheeled toolcarriers were tested in Colombia and in Costa Rica during the 1970s, but this did not lead to any promotion. A small number of Nikart toolcarriers were imported into Costa Rica for on-station evaluation. One of these was adapted as a research implement for measuring the work output of draft animals during transport and cultivation operations (Lawrence and Pearson, 1985).
In 1984 the ICRISAT technical drawings of the Nikart were sent to Instituto Superior de Agricola in Santiago in the Dominican Republic and also to an individual in Bolivia, but by 1986 there had been no feedback from either country.
While the lessons from Africa and India appear clear, there is much less positive or negative evidence from Latin America. There have been small numbers of wheeled toolcarriers in several South and Central American countries for many years, but few projects have progressed beyond the on-station evaluation stage. This may itself be highly significant, but without major attempts at encouraging adoption there have been neither notable successes nor failures where it matters most - at farm level.
At present there seem to be two major promotional initiatives under way that may provide useful evidence in Brazil and in Mexico. Both have been supported by external technical assistance and both have the somewhat dubious advantage of a relatively high profile of political support. In some respects the stage reached is similar to that of Gambia and Senegal in the 1960s, Botswana in the 1970s or India in the 1980s. In such cases a euphoric combination of encouraging on-station research, official support for the new technical "solution" and subsidised production, promotion and credit were leading to (temporary) farmer adoption. The question in Mexico and Brazil is whether the adoption curve will crash, as in Africa and India, or whether it will continue to rise in the ideal exponential curve, as has always been hoped for by toolcarrier protagonists.
Compared with Africa and Asia there are two factors that may favour adoption: high ratios of land to labour and large animals. Some people might suggest that the apparent great importance attached to a farmer's "image" should also assist adoption.
On the cautionary side it should be noted that both Mexican and Brazilian initiatives were beset by early problems in producing high quality implements at a reasonable price. In both countries some professionals actually involved in implementing the externally financed projects have expressed serious doubts about the economic viability and technical desirability of the wheeled toolcarrier programmes. In both Mexico and Brazil it has been demonstrated that all the operations performed by a toolcarrier can be performed easily, and more cheaply using simpler implements.
Time will tell, but while those strongly advocating the use of toolcarriers are now having to turn from Africa and Asia to Latin America in search of a possible practical use for their technology, the prospects are by no means full of promise. It is interesting to note that in both Mexico and Brazil the projects are spreading their risks (and those of the farmers) by promoting ranges of equipment that include simple toolbars. This seems a very sensible approach from all points of view. The farmers can opt for what they perceive as most appropriate (under much less pressure than when one technology is being heavily promoted) and the projects themselves may rightly be able to claim "success" even if the wheeled toolcarrier option is rejected by the farmers.