By Gordon Clark, Horticultural Advisor
A common problem everywhere but especially in developing countries is the use of technology that eventually fails because it is not appropriate for the area or situation.
I discovered this firsthand in S. Sudan years ago. A generous donor provided funds for a tractor for a new start up farm. Instead of buying a tractor in East Africa, one was purchased in the US and shipped over. Mistake number one: where would you get parts? After delivery, the tractor was off loaded with no training provided on how to operate it: Mistake 2: No one was born with the knowledge to operate and maintain a tractor. Tractors require diesel fuel, engine oil, hydraulic oil and lubricants. Mistake 3: If available, can you afford the consumables and how do you transport them to the site? When I arrived 6 months after the tractor, I showed the team how to grease the equipment and change the oil. Diesel fuel was drained out of another vehicle to power the tractor. Ugh.
What are the constraints that the PHF team has to deal with? No fuel or very expensive fuel. You can’t run equipment on fumes. Its especially problematic in diesel engines. If you empty the tank, you bleed all of the air out of the system. Trust me it makes for bruised knuckles, stinky diesel fuel on your clothes, and short tempers. What’s the solution? Oxen power! The only fuel they need comes from grazing or a feed bucket…and they fertilize the soil as they plow. Cowadunga!
Another constraint is the lack of electricity. You can’t run any power tools without the juice. What happens when you can’t use your computer or cell phone without electricity? Not very much happens. What’s the solution? In Haiti there’s plenty of sunshine. Think solar power: it is pretty simple, no moving parts, a few batteries and a controller and there you go.
What if you need more power than a solar trickle? Bicycle power! Bikes are everywhere in the world. We have designed a way to hook up the back wheel of a bike to a belt which turns a shaft which powers a thresher, a grinder, a sheller, a breadfruit peeler and more. All it takes is for someone to sit on the seat and peddle away. Not only will we be running equipment but maybe we will train potential Haitian racers for the Tour de France.