In the most disadvantaged regions of the continent, even today millions of farmers still only have very limited access to mechanized equipment and often have to rely on very basic tools to work their fields. This is the problem that the participatory 3D4AgDev (3D for Agricultural Development) program, run by Togolese fablab Woelabo – the 'first African technological democracy space' – was set up to try to solve. The basic aim is to bring together good ideas and financial resources. One of those good ideas is additive layer manufacturing ('3D printing'), which began to be used by Togolese smallholders a little while ago to help improve their output. The technique enables the farmers to prototype efficient tools suited to their specific needs, making the farm more productive and reducing their dependence on expensive labour. In Malawi, less-well-off farmers have been taking part in a prototyping initiative supported by the National University of Ireland, which has enabled them to use the 3D printing approach to create their own tools, thus increasing their crop size and boosting their income. To remedy the acute shortage of high-tech equipment from industrialized countries, which – for the vast majority of local farmers – are virtually impossible to finance, Woelab has come up with a solution based on low-tech and improvisation. Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, who founded this pioneering African digital fablab, designed a 3D printer built entirely from electronic components found on the street or in waste tips… and it works perfectly! It seems that this new tool-prototyping approach is giving African farmers a real chance to break new ground.
By Arnaud Pagès