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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
recover the cost, in terms of labor saved, in only 5 days and on an area as little as one-fifth of a hectare. Mass production is expected to reduce the cost even further.
In Thailand's northern province of Chiang Mai, the idea has already caught on: a number of local manufacturers are producing mechanical seeders based on the AIT model.
At present, this machine is not intended specifically for small seeds. It is used mainly with soybean, rice, maize, and mungbean. But even with these crops, it brings big advantages in labor saving and yield.
In Nepal, field tests have found that—at wages of 25 rupees (US$1) a day—a farmer can recover the cost of a jab seeder by planting maize or soybean in just I hectare of land. Fifty seeders made locally by the Agricultural Tools Factory in Birganj cost US$13.50 each.
By making a less onerous and more systematic operation, the jab seeder could well increase grain-crop productivity and thereby benefit millions of Africa's grain farmers.
Seed planters are probably the main need for small-seeded crops, but they are not the only need. Various appropriate technologies are required also for harvesting, storing, shipping, and handling tiny cereal grains. Some of these might come from techniques devised to produce ornamentals, forages, and vegetable crops, many of which also have minute seeds.19
Also, it is not impossible that the size of the seeds could be increased through selection and breeding. Luis Sumar has already created a simple machine for doing this in the case of kiwicha. The Sumar sorter uses a small blower and a sloping plastic pipe. The seeds are blown up the pipe and drop into different containers, depending on their weight. With it, Sumar has increased the grain size in kiwicha. He keeps only the heaviest for planting, so that over the years the crops produce seeds that are ever larger, on average. The use of such a simple, inexpensive device in Africa might dramatically benefit fonio, finger millet, and tef, to mention just three cereals.
A reviewer from Oklahoma wrote us: "We have been handling small seeds in the Southern Great Plains with precision for half a century. I worked with native grass seeds myself for 25 years. Some of the seeds are smaller than tef, fonio, or finger millet. We had equipment that would mete out seed at low seeding rates very accurately and plant them with precision. Our planters, processors, and cleaners are, perhaps, too sophisticated for subsistence farmers, but modified versions are well within the capabilities of most village mechanics and blacksmiths. The technology has been available for a long time. Suggest you contact Chet Dewald, Southern Great Plains Range Research Station, 2000) 18th Street, Woodward, Oklahoma 73801."