The other day I received this video below from my friend Tatila Anthony, who is Head Teacher at Chibwe Basic School in Zambia:
At first I couldn’t help smiling, because it looked like these guys were just having fun with a new idea, but knowing this area from living there myself many years back, I suspected this was not just for the fun of it. I asked Tatila Anthony what motivated this practice, and he explained: “It’s used when people fail to access cattle. You know in Zambia cattle die as a result of diseases, so they resort to using Hondas for ploughing. The advantage is also that it is faster.”
Sure, it might be faster, but this really goes to show the limited resources in rural Africa, when disease strikes an otherwise stable source of plowing power (besides the fact that with your cattle dying off you’re literally going broke). Ironically, speaking of troubles in farming, according to dr.dk, half of all farms are in deep debt here in Denmark (20% in imminent danger of bankruptcy) due to this year’s extremely dry summer. The bigger the business, the bigger the hurt when nature goes rogue, I guess.
In the light of CleanTechnica’s Jose Ponte’s great article recently on the emerging EV market in Africa, I wondered how all this will affect agriculture on the continent. I tried to find small electric vehicles for agricultural purposes, but I could only find a few electric UTVs (utility task vehicle) and ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicle) that were either too big and expensive, like the Polaris Ranger EV and Ecocharger Quad, or too small, like the Razor Dirt Quad 500. However, a kit made up of the cute Dirt Quad and a portable solar charge system like the Goal Zero Yeti 400 would probably solve my friend’s problem in Zambia for now (the combined price of $2000 is even comparable to a small Honda). But I thought there must be something better, i.e. more power and grip for the buck.
If you think in terms of a real tractor, the California-based Solectrac has a couple of very nice machines, and it started production this year. CleanTechnica’s Jake Richardson wrote a piece on those a few months back. However, they are built for relatively high loads and thus are not cheap.
There is also another interesting project out of Germany that deal with some of these issues. It’s called EVUM Motors and its end goal is electric mobility for everybody. The company’s focus initially is to drive the change to electric mobility in the developing world, and its first product, the aCar, is supposed to hit the market next year.
I reached out to all of the above to ask if a small super affordable machine was on their minds, which could help out in poor rural communities, but I have had no responses yet. It’s apparently difficult to make something both sturdy and dirt cheap.
I kept searching though, and eventually I found a Chinese electric quad bike that just might be the right solution. Wiztem Industry has a group of products under the brand Mademoto, and this newly developed 3 kW quad may just have the specs that could nail it for the Honda plowing guys in Zambia (The video shows a previous version with a 2200W motor):
I inquired about pricing, specs, and global shipping, and it turns out it can be shipped to any commercial port near you. The price is $2560 when ordering a single unit, and though specs are not even close to those of Polaris and EcoCharger, this might suffice for a small piece of Zambia farm land:
Motor power: 3000W
Battery: 60V 50AH
AC Motor Running Speed: 3000 rpm
Charging power input: 110-240V/50-60HZ Charging time: 8-12 hours
Max speed: 45±2 km/h (28 mph)
Max range: About 55 km (34 miles)
Brakes: front: oil drum brake, rear: disc brake
Transmission: shaft drive transmission
Wheel size: Front: 25×8.5-12, Rear: 25×10-12 alloy rim
Max climbing capacity: 40 degrees
Front wheels track: 900 mm
Rear wheels track: 880 mm
Max load capacity: 180 kg
Wheelbase: 1180 mm
Ground clearance: 220 mm
Seat height: 900 mm
Ingress protection: IP66
Front & Reverse gear shift
I am seriously considering buying one just for the fun of it, as well as to assess the build quality. I sent the link to my friend Tatila Anthony and asked him if he thought this kind of vehicle would be useful: “I agree with you it is a very useful machine and we shall greatly appreciate if you helped us have it. More especially that it is electric. Just requires solar charging. We shall greatly benefit from it.”
We had a long discussion on the issue, and as always things tend to get complicated when bureaucracy and logistics are added to the equation. Just ordering one machine online would certainly end in disaster, and the chance the thing would ever arrive at all is doubtful. But we discussed what it would actually take to get a few of these machines on the road and in the fields of rural Zambia, and maintain them in a sustainable manner.
There is no apparent trade company in Zambia that could manage this kind of idea, so if we imagine starting from scratch, we would have to get clearance from the authorities to import the goods from China to Zambia in the first place. Then there is transport from the nearest commercial port which is Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, 2000 km (1250 miles) from the destination in Zambia.
Wiztem Industry offers to ship 16 units in a 20 ft container at a price of $2040 each, which would be a reasonable start if you think about renting or selling 12 quads and keeping 4 quads for spare parts. Add to this a few solar charging systems, and we are talking about a total price of maybe $50,000. So, if someone could take care of business locally on a daily basis, this might actually work out.
All this may seem trivial to the reader, but in poor rural areas of the world these kind of affordable tools can boost productivity in a non-trivial way. Add to this the opportunity to power all these tools with micro-solar installations, and the long-term economics and independence of fuel supply easily competes with gas driven machinery and disease-prone livestock.
Well, ideas are free, but reality is expensive. I can only hope that the world market will get less restrictive in order to encourage local entrepreneurs to go after ideas like this. Back in the day it would have been virtually impossible to find any of the information presented here, but the internet has made that possible within a few hours. Simultaneously emailing with a sales representative in China and chatting with my friend about this online made this rant possible. Imagine what could be achieved in a free world market.
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