Volunteers hope seeder increases food security

Published 8:17 am Friday, August 21, 2015

Contributed Photo Townson's mule team pulls the crop seeder successfully across a Hampton field.

Contributed Photo Townson’s mule team pulls the crop seeder successfully across a Hampton field.

On August 13, farmers Bill Cumley of Elizabethton and Ronny Townson of Roan Mountain brought their experience and mules to run a field test in Hampton for the World Help through Technology Foundation to determine if a new crop seeder could be pulled by draft animals to help combat world hunger.
“We’re trying to enable the distribution of these small machines on a global basis,” said designer and Conservation Agriculture Consultant John Morrison.
The crop seeder is currently being used in Mexico, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia to drastically increase crop production in countries where people die from starvation every day.
More seeders are currently en route to Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Ghana, and there are plans to send some to Nigeria as well.
Morrison said there are several groups that are holding demonstrations and training farmers about how conservation agriculture can be beneficial, but they do not have an adequate supply of equipment to implement these techniques.
“(The crop seeder) is being introduced to support the increased need for food security among the small village farmers in these developing countries,” said Morrison. “There is a very well-documented food shortage every year. Starvation is a reality.”
WHTF is a registered NGO based out of Durham, North Carolina. Locals Morrison and Becky Cummings are some of its volunteer staff. Among other efforts, it teaches conservation agriculture and strives to help farmers transition from using hand tools to operating machines in order to improve yield and even to earn money from their farms.
“There’s a real need for tools for farmers, so that’s where we’re at,” said Morrison. “They’re introducing the technology and people like us are trying to make available the appropriate tools that farmers can do this with.”
The last 15 to 18 years of observation attest that farmers can double and triple their yields using conservation agricultural techniques.
This method teaches a no-till method of planting, so the crop seeder is extremely useful because it creates a furrow, deposits seeds and fertilizer, then closes the furrow without ever tilling large plots of land.
“The operator stands on the back of the machine and their weight depresses the digger and closes the furrow,” Morrison said.
In places where people are already using them, they are being pulled by small, two-wheeled tractors. Many communities, however, do not have power units, so Morrison got together with Cumley, Townson and Phillip Frost of Zimbabwe to test the functionality of the machine when pulled by draft animals to discover it was a success.
The economic implementation strategy with the seeder is that a farmer will take out an agricultural loan — which is common around the world in developing countries — to purchase a crop seeder and then will use it personally and rent it to other farmers within his or her community.
“That same model is what really happened in the mechanization here in America — transitioning from hand methods to tractorization,” Morrison said. “One farmer would start in a village or region, and then it would spread to other famers in other regions till they became prosperous enough to implement the tools.”
The seeders are being produced at cost by Stone Mountain Technologies Inc. of Johnson City.
Along with the education and distribution of the machines, Morrison said they will need parts and repair stores wherever the machines will be used.
For further information about the work of WHTF, please visit its website at www.whtfound.org. It is a shoestring budget operation that depends on volunteers’ time and skills as well as tax-free donations.
“There is a great hope that this is going to make a significant impact on food security for individual farms in farming communities,” Morrison said.

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