Animal Drawn Planters for Vertisols and Lighter Red Soils to Save Labor and Time

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Dry planting tool with tubes for seed and fertiliser (PIC: KALRO)

Two tools have been developed by the Kenya Agricultultural and Livestock Research Organization and Triple W Engineering to enable early planting for smallholder farmers in the arid and semi-arid lands. One is for vertisols and the other is for lighter red soils.

Many smallholder farmers in the arid and semi-arid areas cannot plant on most soils until after sufficient rain has fallen. Planting thus is late with potential yield loss. Various designs of chisels and rippers exist, which can penetrate and break up dry soils but the force needed to pull them is high and greater than two animals, weakened by the limited dry season grazing.

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Long pole beam

Both tools are connected to the animals through a long pole beam. This is similar to the method used in northern Kenya except that the pole is a metal pipe in place of the usual wooden pole.

It is easier and cheaper to make than the normal chain and beam plough with wheel. It is also very stable in work and can be controlled using only one hand, freeing the other for dropping seed. It is light and easier to use by women and young persons than the conventional plough. When turning at the end of a row the handles and tool are lifted and held up to facilitate moving into the new position. This requires some practice, but is easily learned.

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Long yoke

This is a modification of the yoke normally used for weeding with the victory type plough. Its effective working width can be changed by moving the neck band to different holes. This enables animals to plant crops at varying row spacing of 75 cm, 60 cm or 30 cm with one animal walking along the line of the previous row thus keeping the row spacing constant. The use of the yoke keeps animals apart and reduces the risk of injury when turning at the end of a row. Practicing with the animal is needed, but experience shows that a trained animal learns fast.

Connecting the planters to the animals

The animals should be a pair accustomed to working together and preferably trained to walk in straight lines as with traditional plough/planting. They should be handled gently and well treated without the use of sticks other than as a guide.

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The planting operation

The person planting has to co-ordinate several activities at once like dropping seed at regular distances, replenishing seed in the hand, observing the tines for blockage, clearing blockages, lifting before turning at the ends. This co-ordination requires practice. Before planting actual seed it is advised to use the tool on one or two rows for testing. If the results of the testing are satisfactory (straight lines and good turns):

  • Make the first row as straight as possible by guiding the animal
  • Take small handful of seed from the container in one hand
  • Use other hand to keep the planter upright
  • Drop seeds down the seed tube at an estimated 30 cm spacing. Some practice is needed for this but it is better to drop more, which can be thinned later, than less
  • With the long yoke being used for maize the right hand animal should walk on the previously planted row to ensure a spacing of 75 cm
  • Raise the planter to remove blockage by maize stalks or stones when in motion. This is an operation the operator will learn with practice
  • Raise and carry the handles of the planter when turning at the ends of the row to prevent the planter being dragged sideways and suffering damage
  • At the ends of the row replenish the seed container but do not fill it fully to avoid loss due to bumping and shaking when moving.