A recent report, ‘Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization’ commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, claims that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of the land is still cultivated by hand.
Michris Janse van Rensburg is one of the very few people who are trying to make life easier for the farmers, predominantly women, who undertake this backbreaking task. Michris’ Company, appropriately named ‘Backsaver Farming Equipment’, is based in Bultfontein in the Free State Province of South Africa.
Michris’ introduction to the world of equipment manufacturing began when he won an award for his invention of a hand planter, at the ‘Boerepatente’ competition at the Nampo Show in 2010. He built this simple machine, initially for his own use, when his crop of maize had patches where the seed, planted with a conventional maize planter, hadn’t germinated.
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His neighbours persuaded him to build machines for them, and also suggested he entered the competition. Michris says that the prize wasn’t that important, but the show gave him incredible exposure and resulted in the creation of a small-scale manufacturing business. He now has a regular stand at the show and is one of the few exhibitors offering solutions for small-scale farmers in Africa. His Backsaver tools eliminate some of the drudgery of hand cultivation.
Janse van Rensburg recently returned from a trip to Uganda in Central Africa, 4300 kms North from his home town in the Free State, where he successfully negotiated a deal for 500 of his combination planters. This is a machine which has proved to be very efficient. It can be pulled by animals, oxen or donkeys, or even by 2 people. It plants to the correct depth at the prescribed seed spacing and, at the same time, applies a measured quantity of fertiliser. With 2 disc-openers it can even operate as a No-Till implement.
Michris says that in his experience, travelling to many different countries in Africa, the correct application of fertiliser is a major problem. To this end he has designed various implements to solve the difficulties in correctly applying the prescribed quantity. These range from a simple hand-held applicator that supplies a measured quantity to individual plants, to a hand pushed implement, with a land-wheel drive that meters the fertiliser at a rate adjusted by a chain drive with variable cogs.
The factory in Bultfontein currently provides work for 10 local people but Michris says that he is planning to double his workforce to cope with the latest order and others in the pipeline.