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Background[edit | edit source]

There are a number of appropriate technology principles that specifically concern agricultural tools.

In developing countries, such tools should ideally be produced within the country, in part simply because of the large numbers involved, and because this provides local employment and keeps wealth within the country. They should be repairable at the local level. With much of agriculture characterized by short intense periods of activity, farmers cannot afford delays caused by equipment failures.

The FAO book Farm Implements for Arid and Tropical Regions includes a list of important general principles for appropriate agricultural tools, some of which go beyond the general criteria for appropriate technology.

"Such tools should be:

a) adapted to allow efficient and speedy work with the minimum of fatigue;

b) not injurious to man or animal;

c) of simple design, so that they can be made locally;

d) light in weight, for easy transportation (there are also considerable advantages when threshers, winnowers, and machines such as coffee hullers can be easily moved to where they are needed;

e) ready for immediate use without loss of time for preparatory adjustments;

f) made of easily available materials."

Appropriate agricultural tools and equipment should contribute to the broad objective of increasing the viability of the small farm. Where small farmers are currently employing traditional technologies that are inefficient, they often cannot improve this technology because of the leap in scale and capital cost to commercially available equipment. It is therefore the goal of intermediate technology proponents to help fill this gap with good quality tools and equipment that are affordable and suited to the scale of operations of the small farmers.

There is a tendency for equipment development and commercial firms to concentrate their energies on tools that are affordable only to the wealthier farmers. This happens in part because of a focus on what technically could be done, without attention to financial constraints faced by the typical small farmer. Contributing factors include the inappropriate application of industrialized, extensive farming strategies to small intensive farming communities, and the failure to include the small farmer in the process of identifying helpful new technologies that can truly fit into the existing farming system. The result is usually either outright failure of innovations to attract interest or the consolidation of landholdings by wealthier farmers taking advantage of the technology newly available. The position of tenant farmer may become worse, and that of small farmer in general is not improved. Appropriate technology advocates must be careful to avoid repeating these mistakes.

The degree of concentration of land ownership is a key factor in determining if there are opportunities available for appropriate technology strategies in a community. Agricultural technologies developed with and for the smallest farmer can certainly strengthen the viability of their farms. But if most families have no land at all, land reform and the establishment of rural industries may be far more important steps in a positive community development program than the improvement of agricultural tools and equipment.

In most of Asia and much of Latin America, farms are quite small. Under these conditions, most mechanized equipment will not increase the amount of food produced, but will only decrease the amount of labor required. Productivity per acre or hectare may in fact decline if these large tools require extra space to maneuver and wide lanes to drive or roll over. The appropriate tools under such circumstances, even if supported by unlimited resources, would be very different than those used in the United States, where the amount of cultivated land per capita is relatively large.

From the national perspective, support for communities of small farms should bring significant benefits. Whereas it has been widely assumed that only the large farm could efficiently increase national food production in the struggle against hunger, mounting evidence from many countries indicates that the small farm has higher yields per acre and plays a crucial role in the distribution of food. Small farms also make the best use of national capital resources:

"To maintain... a rational growth of capital in a low-income economy, small farms are better suited than large ones, for the small farmers do not experience the same pressure to substitute capital for labor; no one wants to mechanize himself out of a job." (Folke Dovring, in Agricultural Technology for Developing Nations).

People interested in improving local agricultural equipment should be looking for technologies that accomplish one or more of the following:

  1. Remove labor bottlenecks in the agricultural calendar that are limiting production (e.g., short periods of time when all available labor is fully employed, such as during planting or harvesting).
  2. Replace or speed up activities that are extremely inefficient in the use of time (e.g., traditional hand-milling). This can free time for more productive activities.
  3. Increase the productivity of land (e.g., with irrigation weeding, natural fertilizers)
This page includes content from David Bartecchi of Village Earth.

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