From grassroots to tree-tops: A farmer's innovative Arecanut tree climber
Ganapathi K Bhat is a first generation agripreneur in his fifties. He completed his Bachelors in Science from Yuvaraja’s college, Mysore. He owns 20 acres of arecanut plantation in Komali,Bantwala taluk in Dakshina Kannada district. Agriculture is his major source of livelihood.
Not a low hanging fruit
The main problem he faced as a farmer was ensuring adequate and timely availability of skilled labour for harvesting of arecanut bunches during harvesting season, spraying of plant protection chemicals* and for other farm operations. Remote operated machines in the existing market help in spraying of plant protection chemicals, but it is difficult to ensure that there is target spraying and any spillage or misappropriate spray is expensive for farmers. All these drawbacks motivated him to design and develop an ‘arecanut harvesting and spraying machine’ to fulfill the needs of arecanut growing farmers in the country. This machine helps in minimizing the amount of human labour required for spraying of plant protection chemicals and harvesting of arecanut branches.
*Plant protection chemicals include pesticides as well as other concoctions to treat fungal, viral or bacterial diseases such as yellow leaf disease, fruit rot/kole roga etc. The iterative design process:
CAMPCO (Central Arecanut and Cocoa Marketing and Processing Co-operative) Limited often organize ‘Krishi Yantra Mela’ (agriculture equipment fair) to create awareness and showcase innovative agricultural equipment used in agriculture and allied sectors. Frequent visits to these kinds of agri-machinery fairs ignited his passion for designing the arecanut climber. In the initial days, he worked with a few engineers to design and develop the arecanut climber machine. Now, he has successfully modified the machine to make it suitable for the entire agriculture season to work on both dry and wet surface of the tree. This was crucial because major proportion of arecanut is grown in heavy rainfall areas along the Western Ghats. He has also made additional modifications, such that it can be used for coconut tree climbing. Recently, he conducted a demonstration of coconut tree climber recently as part of field trials. He has developed this climber entirely based on personal experience at his own farm. Maben’s Engineering Solutions located in Industrial area, Shivamogga is undertaking manufacturing of arecanut climbers. He has received patent for the innovation with their help and support
Description of the machine:
It is difficult to do target spraying and harvesting of areca bunches when the height of arecanut tree reaches 24 foot and beyond. This machine can be used for trees aged between 10 to 40 years of age. The arecanut harvesting and spraying machine weighs 28 kg and has a three-stroke engine. It has hydraulic drum brakes to minimize wear and tear, double chain, gears, seat and safety belt which ensures safety of climber. Anyone weighing upto 80 kg can climb the tree within 30 seconds just by the press of a button. It can harvest upto 50 trees per hour. With safety belt in place, individuals have no fear of falling. A handle is fitted on the scooter for ease of use. Along with it, it has an indicator to show petrol and oil content. The engine runs on petrol.
Peer and Institutional Support:
The department of Horticulture, Karnataka recently came forward to support purchase of arecanut tree climber by providing subsidy of 40% on MRP of machine for eligible farmers. Bhat is happy with this move as it could reach large number of farmers. He received help from one of his farmer customers who is also involved in tyre manufacturing work. Bhat faced challenges in development of tyre molds which would be suitable during all the season to work on trees to ensure safety of the climber without any damage to tyres like blasting, puncture, slippage and other issues. It was not easy for them to develop such kind of tyres and it took almost 17 mold iterations to develop the final mold of tyre with fine laser cutting suitable for the machine.
Spreading the word
Bhat has conducted more than 1000 free demos across India to create awareness among farmers about the technology and its benefits to them. He has been keen on disseminating information to a larger audience and social media has helped the cause. Over 2,000 people have visited his farmland where he has given practical demonstration of the climber. He sold 1000 climbers in Karnataka within a few months of promoting the machine and also sold 380 units to Kerala and Tamilnadu.
In Karnataka, arecanut growing regions like Shivamogga, Tithahalli and Agumbe have high demand for the machine.
Bhat’s invention, which went viral on social media also earned the praise of business tycoon Anand Mahindra, who described the machine as ‘elegantly designed with minimum weight'.
Market penetration and the climb ahead:
Farmers have to pay 50 per cent cost of the machine in advance to buy this machine. Bhat uses this money to develop the machine and at the time of delivery customers have to pay the remaining 50 per cent amount to receive the machine. He is seeing increasing demand in the past six months and is already swamped with advanced bookings. He personally works on the customer complaints, in case he receives any. He has not yet stepped into mass production of machines because he wants to personally check the efficacy of machine by trial climbing. He does not want to risk the life of any arecanut climber due to negligence, so quality check is paramount. He went out of his way to replace all machines with the new tyres developed, free of cost to all those farmers who had previously brought the machine. Bhat is now ready for the next design challenge of his machine. Harvest of arecanut bunches and spray of Bordeaux mixture are prime consideration before taking up intercrop like black pepper, vanilla creeper. This machine moves up by cutting the creepers used as an intercrop and pose a limitation in its usage. Efforts are being made along these lines to overcome this limitation of the machine.
He is confident that this machinery has potential to grow in the future. In recognition of his innovative efforts, Bhat received the Progressive Farmer award in the Krishi Mela organized by GKVK, Bengaluru in October 2019.
About the Author(s)
Pallavi G L, is currently pursuing her Fellow Programme at Institute of Rural Management (IRMA) (Email:firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dhruva V C works as Assistant Business Manger at Agrinnovate India Limited, New Delhi.