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Animal traction

The animal cart is the most powerful and accessible innovation which could be introduced into many rural situations. Transport is essential to rural development and future prosperity. But in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, from the Sahel to the Zambesi, the cost and inconvenience of transport for farmers is very high. Each person in a rural community in Africa is likely to spend an average of over two hours per day on transport tasks, despite walking less than 10km with a payload of only 20kg or so. This represents a poor level of effectiveness when compared with more sophisticated transport methods. Such ineffectiveness adds to the burden already carried by the farming community and severely inhibits improvements in productivity and hence development.

Improved transport is needed to allow ready movement of materials and tools around the farm to improve the timeliness and efficiency of farming operations and reduce wastage of crops. Farmers often generate surpluses which cannot command proper prices because the goods cannot be sold in a favourable market. Such produce must rather be disposed of at much less advantageous rates by the nearest roadside, itself often at such a distance that spoilage occurs. (Highly perishable goods may even be unmarketable.) Clearly the rural community will operate at a depressed financial status, when compared to urban areas, and in such situations it is difficult to accumulate capital which might be invested in improved infrastructure and farming inputs.

One of the major factors contributing to the shortage of transport is the cost, and in particular, the initial outlay on vehicles. Farmers are understandably reluctant to increase their risk as this may increase their exposure to money lenders and credit schemes. Cheaper transport modes, of greater effectiveness, are likely to make smaller demands on scarce capital and allow faster and more thorough development. With limited resources and skill levels, most countries find however, that provision of suitable vehicles is difficult. Little effort has been invested anywhere, either in the developed or the developing world, into designing low-cost and, more particularly cost-effective vehicles, for use in the rural areas of developing countries.

What is required are vehicles which can be made locally and repaired locally. Animal carts represent a considerable increase in transport power or effectiveness over head-loading. They are relatively cheap and cost effective.

To improve the status of rural and low-cost transport a number of different interventions rnight be considered.

  1. Introduce new designs and production processes appropriate to the local needs, which will make local manufacturing of animal carts easier to carry out. A number of innovations in the design and production of animal and human-powered carts have been made by the DTU in the last few years and promise to change the cost effectiveness of such transport significantly. Such improved products and methods include pressed steel and cast aluminium wheels, low-cost ball and roller bearings, some of which require no machine tools and low-cost body designs in both steel and wood using cheap fixing techniques. These modified cart designs can be produced with only two or three days labour per cart, and with a tota1 cost including body, axle and bearings, and scrap wheels and tyres, of as little as $us 50. 
  2. Provide technical training of metal and woodworkers to complement these improved cart manufacturing techniques, This is very important if they are to advance and adapt the designs to cater better for their customers needs. The designs suggested above are specifically tailored to require little improvement in skill level to make adequate working products. Nevertheless training of artisans and manufacturers, including rudimentary book keeping, would be very beneficial to improve financial viability and longterm sustainability. 
  3. Improve the communication between producer and user by providing training to extension agents and farmers. The market for low-technology equipment for the farming sector has already been described as poor, and the maintenance of a sales and spares network too expensive for companies supplying low-cost vehicles. As a consequence the customer often has unrealistic expectations and has no good idea of the cost of the provision of particular features. 
  4. Undertake a programme of standards testing of vehicles and equipment by a government body and make the results widely available. The various parties would then become aware of inadequacies and should be able to make informed purchasing decisions. Such an approach is being followed in Zambi

The DTU has been working on a range of cart body types for use with both donkeys and oxen. It has designs for wooden and steel framed types. The wooden types are cheaper in material terms, but the steel framed ones are easier to make because the joints are more straightforward - nevertheless you can make either type of cart in only one or two days, if you are reasonably set up with tools and materials.

The DTU has also been working on new designs of wheels, hubs and bearings to bring down their costs and make things more locally manufacturable. We have designs for twin axles with wooden bearings and twin axles with bearings made from PVC water pipe. And we have two systems of fixed axle: one with PVC bearings and another using needle roller bearings suitable for local manufacture. No machining is necessary for any of these axles.

Hub designs using, for example aluminium castings, have been in production in Nigeria and we are trying to reduce or eliminate the machining in these. Also wheel designs in steel sheet, cast aluminium and timber are under development. We have a design for solid steel rim wheels in which the rim is made from round bar and does not need any hammering.