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Local innovations help meet farmers’ needs in Bihar

During a pilot program with members of the Kisan Sakhi Group in Muzzafarpur, Bihar nearly 350 women farmers were trained on operating the Diesel Engine Powered Open Drum Thresher. In this picture, Suryakanta Khandai (center), postharvest specialist, IRRI, is conducting a demonstration for two of the women’s self-help groups (SHGs) that have expressed interest in purchasing four machines next season.

In India, farmers with large landholdings from prosperous agricultural states like Punjab can buy expensive and sophisticated machines for farm operations. However, resource-poor farmers with smaller landholdings from states such as Bihar may not have funds to buy these machines. “A huge bottleneck exists in terms of time wasted in harvesting and threshing that is preventing timely sowing of crops,” said Scott Justice, agriculture mechanization specialist, CIMMYT.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) is working to ensure that farmers all along the spectrum of landholdings have access to differently priced and scale-appropriate machinery based on their specific requirements. One of the ways CSISA does this is by improving existing designs of harvest and postharvest machinery to better meet local needs.

For shelling maize, farmers in Bihar could either purchase a very large, highly productive machine that costs approximately US$ 786 or use a handheld maize sheller that is cheap but can only shell 15 – 20 kg per hour. A medium-sized mechanized single cob maize sheller brought to Bihar from Nepal broke the cobs because the sheller had been optimized for Nepal’s hybrid varieties that had longer and thinner cobs. Farmers in Bihar need their cobs to remain intact so they can be used as fuel for their stoves. According to Justice, “These lightweight and affordable shellers are relatively new entrants on the scene. Their simple designs mean that they can be made easily by local manufacturers.” More importantly, they can also be modified as required.

CSISA worked with a local fabricator to modify the existing design and created an electric motor powered double cob maize sheller, which can shell 150 kg maize per hour and consumes only 2 – 4 units of electricity. Priced at US$ 126, the machine is also fairly affordable. “In fact, half the cost of the machine is that of the electric motor alone. For farmers who already own one, the machine would merely cost US$ 63,” said Suryakanta Khandai, postharvest specialist, IRRI, who works for CSISA in Bihar.

Similarly, until recently, farmers in Bihar only had two options for mechanized rice threshing – the very large axial flow thresher that can cost up to US$ 2,700 after subsidy or the compact pedal-powered open drum thresher that has very low capacity and is difficult to operate for extended periods of time.

“Farmers clearly needed a medium-sized, affordable, efficient and portable mechanical rice thresher,” said Khandai. But to build a truly relevant product understanding the shortcomings of the existing options was critical. “The existing models also lacked winnowing or bagging functions, which were included in the new design. Besides giving it wheels, we also decided to use a diesel engine to power the machine to allow for threshing in the field immediately upon cutting, which would help reduce losses.” The result was the diesel engine powered open drum thresher.

It costs US$ 23.96 to hire one person to manually thresh 1 acre of rice in 7 days. Using the diesel engine powered open drum thresher, however, the same area can now be covered in just over four hours at a total cost of US$ 10.54.

Since modifying these medium-sized machines does not offer sufficient profit margin for larger manufacturers and retailers, CSISA approached local fabricators to fill this gap. The maize sheller was customized in cooperation with Dashmesh Engineering, which sells the machine at a profit of US$ 11–13. “Profits help ensure that the fabricators put in efforts on their own to scale out the machines. Other dealers have also expressed interest in the maize sheller, which is great because having multiple fabricators involved ensures that the pricing remains competitive,” said Khandai.

Justice added, “Equipment like powered open drum threshers for rice are very simple but they have not spread very widely. I feel these should now also be promoted with owners of two-wheel tractors and mini tillers in India and Nepal.” Since the thresher can easily be adapted again to be powered by those engines, the cost of the machine can be brought down even further.