ASMC launches innovation hubs to improve cropping systems in Cambodia and Bangladesh

April 25, 2016

The Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium (ASMC) led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has established two regional innovation hubs for a project that will determine the tools, technologies, and methods that improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa.    

“Visits to Cambodia and Bangladesh this spring launched the concept of innovation hubs. These hubs, based at partner institutions, will provide a means of networking for stakeholders. They will serve to collect information, develop resources, and provide training. In four years, these hubs will be self-sustaining,” said Alan Hansen, project lead for the ASMC.

The ASMC is a four-year, $4.7 million project funded by USAID as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. ASMC will help farmers in these areas produce more food and nutrition on the same land base while protecting the area’s natural resources for future production. The group will launch two additional hubs in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso during May. 

Cambodia’s hub established at Royal University of Agriculture

 In Cambodia, an ASMC group including Director of ACES Office of International Programs Alex Winter-Nelson, Professor and Department Head of Agricultural and Biological Engineering K.C. Ting, and Project Manager Tim Rendall, organized a workshop with local partner Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh to begin identifying tools that may save time and labor for smallholder vegetable farmers.  

“Cambodia’s farmers grow rice and vegetables, but vegetables are limited due to the required labor and lack of mulch. From a sustainability perspective, we saw interesting potential for developing implements to plant cover crops after the rice and then use the cover crops as mulch for the vegetables so they would need less irrigation. The cover crops would improve soil health, and mulching would improve the vegetable production and raise farm incomes,” said Winter-Nelson.

An example of an implement that may be useful to these farmers is a broadcast seeder for cover crops; however, the team will work with RUA to determine the most effective implements.

 “First, we will conduct baseline surveys to get a better sense of production and farming in these areas. We will find out what the problems are and then decide if the necessary equipment exists or if we need to create something new,” said Winter-Nelson.

Second hub established at Bangladesh Agricultural University

Also this spring ASMC team members including Hansen, Rendall, and Prasanta Kalita, professor and director of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, visited Bangladesh Agricultural University to launch a second hub.   

“The workshop we hosted in Bangladesh had a wide participation of stakeholders, including farmers, local manufacturers, and employees from local institutes. We took the opportunity to engage on challenges and how they think the challenges should be addressed. It is important for the stakeholders to present their own perspective on mechanization. Our job is to provide expertise, but it is locally driven, and the innovation hub will have full ownership,” said Hansen.

Thus far, the mechanization of transplanting rice seedlings and harvesting rice have been identified as focus areas, but several questions must be considered before selecting equipment.

“How safe is it? How ergonomically appropriate is it for women? How easy is it to maintain? How available are the spare parts?” are examples of considerations, said Hansen.

The ASMC team will also investigate appropriate technologies for pumping and managing water in Bangladesh’s southern Delta region.

“We will also be working on capacity building, student exchanges, and outreach through such activities as field days and train-the-trainer events. Engaging youth is another focus because they are the famers in 10-15 years, so we are thinking about how to encourage them to get involved and how to teach them skills that are of value,” said Hansen.  

Previous article: Press release on ASMC award, Sept. 2015

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  • Alex Winter-Nelson

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