User-friendly seed spreader saves Tunisian female farmers time, money, and efforts, with significant yield increases
Mina Devkota – Scientist, Agronomist, ICARDA
Zied Idoudi – Technology Scaling Specialist, ICARDA
Dina Najjar – Gender Scientist, ICARDA
ICARDA would like to acknowledge the donors and partners who made this work possible: The International Fund For Agricultural Development, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique de Tunisie (INRAT), Office d'Elevage et des Paturages Tunisie (OEP).
In Tunisia, the smallest land plots are overwhelmingly owned by female farmers, which comes with a set of challenges. The first difficulty they face is that large machinery widely used on greater land sizes cannot operate on tiny, uneven, and fragmented land plots. The labor shortage is another challenge for them, as many young people migrate from rural areas to cities, creating a manpower gap and increasing its cost. Female farmers have no other choice than to broadcast seeds and fertilizers manually, the traditional yet painstaking way. They devote a lot of time to this activity, which adds up to their already hectic days, filled with unpaid domestic chores. In addition, many seeds and fertilizers are wasted with manual broadcasting, as they are not distributed evenly.
To help Tunisian female farmers overcome these challenges, ICARDA rolled out a user-friendly and cost-effective innovation that saves time and reduces the number of seeds needed. The Handheld Precision Spreader (HPS) comes with a container to hold seeds and an adjustable opening to control the volume of the material distributed. At the bottom, a spinning disk is operated by a spinner attached to its side. Because the HPS spreads seeds and fertilizers evenly, it results in 20 percent higher biomass yields in forage crops compared to manual broadcasting. The other advantage of this technique is that farmers can spray chemical fertilizers without their skin being in contact with the product, reducing health concerns.
With national partners, ICARDA has imported and distributed 25 low-cost spreaders and provided technical guidance to farmers during the 2020-2021 cropping season. Farmers reported that the machine is easy to handle, reduces labor, and slashes costs by 40% - saving time spent on broadcasting.
Samia (name has been changed to protect her wish for anonymity) is a Tunisian farmer who received a precision handheld seeder from a female official at the National Agency of Livestock and Pasture (OEP). "The way we used to broadcast seeds was tough work, and it has become easier and faster with the spreader," she says, pointing out that she shares the seeder with other cooperative members.
Given the innovation's many benefits, particularly for small farmers who operate crop-livestock mixed systems, ICARDA is planning on giving out another 100 spreaders to fill the growing demand. The OEP, the largest technical institute in the country in charge of livestock, forages, and rangeland improvement, is the one that officially requested the broader dissemination of this user-friendly innovation at the farmers' level, through their network of regional offices. ICARDA, together with its public and private partners, will continue to disseminate the HPSs and document its benefits. We will also be undertaking capacity development activities and making them easily available on the local market.
This innovation is part of the IFAD-funded Conservation Agriculture for Crop and Livestock System (CLCA) Project, which aims to increase the productivity and profitability of such small crop-livestock farmers in the region since 2015.