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Seeding the market with the right agricultural technologies

Increasing crop yields through dynamic private sector partnerships.

Eighty-two-year-old farmer Md. Abdur Rahman saw his first Power Tiller Operated Seeder (PTOS) at a demonstration event in February 2015. Rahman had always been impressed by machinery, and was constantly on the lookout for ways to make his farming life easier. The machine—which easily attached to his existing two-wheeled tractor—instantly attracted him, as it would allow him to do three things at once. “With this machine,” he says, “I can save [time and money] by tilling, seeding, and leveling my 10.7 hectares of land.” And with the time that he is saving, he is able to make additional income selling his PTOS services to other farmers.

iDE Hero Bangladesh Key Agriculture Project

Md. Abdur Rahman stands proudly with his power tiller operated seeder. This new addition to his toolbox has saved him both time and money, allowing him to grow his farm business.

Over half of the farmers in southern Bangladesh lack access to affordable farm machinery. Additionally, labor shortages and the high cost of labor and fuel constrain productivity and limit profitability.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia—Mechanization and Irrigation Project (CSISA-MI), funded by USAID, addresses this issue to unlock farmers’ productivity and increase their household incomes. iDE is collaborating with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) to promote a transformative shift for small-scale farmers. By strengthening the supply chains of key manufacturers, dealers, and maintenance mechanics, affordable and appropriate technology becomes available to these farmers.

Axial flow pumps, like this one being examined at a retail shop, allow farmers with water sources close to the surface to pump more water using less fuel. (Photo by Ranak Martin/iDE)

Tools of the trade

iDE and CIMMYT have identified three core agricultural technologies that have the greatest potential to transform farming practices by increasing productivity and conserving resources:

  • In this region, surface water—even in the dry season—is abundant. Axial flow pumps, which have much higher flow rates than centrifugal low-lift pumps, are proving to be a game-changer for irrigation purposes, as they are able to move much more water with less fuel.
  • The power tiller-operated seeder is an attachment for two-wheel tractors that allows for plowing, seeding, fertilizing, and levelling in a single pass, effectively reducing sowing time by two-thirds. 
  • Farmers traditionally harvest rice and wheat by hand or with a sickle. Mechanical reapers can measurably improve harvest efficiency, allowing farmers to save time and labor, avoid harmful, inclimate weather, and expedite harvest, which makes it possible to plant the next crop more quickly and increase the productivity of their land.

Farmers examine the inner workings of a power tiller operated seeder. (Photo by Ranak Martin/iDE)

Supporting agents of change

To ensure the benefits of these technologies reach small-scale farmers in Southern Bangladesh, CSISA-MI supports rural entrepreneurs called local service providers (LSPs) to buy agricultural machinery and provide much needed mechanization services to poor farmers. Although these small-scale farmers cannot afford to buy a machine of their own, they can afford to pay for mechanization services from an LSP.

iDE’s role in CSISA-MI is to create partnerships with private companies, financial institutions, local dealers, and other market players to support the development of a market for these machines and associated services. Working together, CIMMYT trains LSPs to use and maintain agricultural machinery while iDE builds the business and financial management capacity of these entrepreneurs. IDE then helps link these trained providers to new customers, local mechanics, and sources of spare parts to ensure small-scale farmers’ long-term access to mechanization services.

Wheels within wheels

Md. Abdur Rahman has clearly seen the benefits of a PTOS purchase. He paid BDT 35,700 (US $463) to a local machinery dealer of a Bangladeshi importer, Rangpur Foundry Limited (RFL). Rahman estimates that the PTOS saves him BDT 5,400 (US $70) per year on his farm and countless hours. He also uses it to sell seeding services to his neighbors, which enabled him to pay for his investment in the PTOS in one year. He liked the machine so much that he went back to RFL and purchased an axial flow pump to irrigate his fish farm.

In order to create an efficient and sustainable market for agricultural technology, iDE is partnering with importers and manufacturers to reduce their risks through market information, demonstrable return on investments, and strategic cost-share investments. This way, companies, dealers, local service providers, and farmers experience increased returns. These strengthened value chains also support a wider market of mechanics, workshops, and spare parts manufacturers and retailers. These relationships can be sustained long after iDE disengages as a facilitator since the connections have been grounded in commercial profitability rather than external NGO pressure.

Seeding the market

Since its start in July 2013, the CSISA-MI approach has facilitated promising change within the wider agro-machinery market:

  • More than 58,000 farmers have benefited from mechanization and agricultural services.
  • Nearly 27,000 hectares of land is now tended with improved technologies or management practices.
  • More than USD 2.2 million of new private-sector investment has been leveraged to introduce and expand technology and agriculture services used by farmers; roughly 2,000 target machines have been sold within the project’s working area.
  • Nearly 18,000 farmers and other target audiences in government, the private sector, and civil society have been exposed to and become better informed about improved technology and management practices.
  • Almost 3,000 local service providers have been trained on machine operation and maintenance and/or business planning.

Case Study

Report by Richard Kohl prepared for USAID Bureau for Food Security. This report provides summary findings and conclusions from a case study examining the scaling up of agricultural machinery services through commercial pathways in southwest Bangladesh from 2012 to early 2016. It is one of a series of studies looking at successful scaling up of agricultural innovations in developing countries. 

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