On June 20th, I arrived in Burkina Faso with Tractors for Africa. As this is our first project, its success is crucial for future projects. Another co-founder, Louis Ricard, was with me for the first week in Burkina Faso, and on his last day here (June 25th), the tractor finally arrived! With the help of nearly 50 villagers, we unloaded the container in just 2 hours. People were ecstatic and ready to see the tractor in action, but we had trouble getting it to start (a bit of a downer after raising $30k and sending the tractor 10,000 miles across the globe), and we didn’t have time to fix it before bringing Louis to the airport.
On June 28th, we finally got the tractor started and proceeded to plow the first field. The entire village turned out to watch the affair. One hundred men, women and children watched with joy and amazement as our Farmall 400 plowed the soil to a depth of 16” – much deeper than the 2” that they achieve by hand or with ox-drawn plows. They had never seen a plow before, but they had seen a disk, which was the next thing we tested. The disk only tills to a depth of 6”, but it can go much faster. The villagers actually prefer the disk since it is more familiar, so we proceeded with that. Right now we are tilling land at a rate of 6 hectares per day (due to the small, oddly shaped fields) and we are charging enough to cover gas and repairs. I have trained a tractor operator who is tilling a field as I type. The villagers are already planning to save up for next year so that they afford the gas to till their fields in 2017. I could not be happier!
As for overall project success, we have sent many other pieces of equipment to extend the season. After tillage is finished (around July 15th), we will proceed to row-crop cultivating and spraying for weed control. To my knowledge, these services have never been offered here, but farmers are excited to try them. After harvest, we will transport grain using a tractor-drawn wagon, and during the dry season, we will use the tractor to haul water. In this way, we can use the tractor all year and hope to save enough money to send another within the next year.
I am also planning a study to compare the effects of different types of tillage on crop yield and soil structure. The four tillage types we will test include hand tillage, ox-drawn plow tillage, tractor+disk tillage and tractor+plow tillage. I will post the results on my website after harvest in November.