It may sound unlikely, and like something from the future, but for farmers in Myanmar, new technology is changing their lives.
While 3D printers have become more common across the world, it’s not the first piece of equipment you might expect to find in the fields that surround Yangon. Amid the mud and rural landscape, it seems that 3D printing technology is helping struggling farmers turn their business around.
There’s an industrial park just south of Yangon that’s busy using 3D printing to design bespoke parts for machinery and equipment. As farmers in the area have had to rely on making their own replacement parts, or designing something out of odds and ends, this is miraculous indeed. After having to make their own tools or adapt unsuitable imports into agricultural machinery, they’re now waiting for the machine to do it for them.
Agriculture in Myanmar is difficult, so difficult in fact that it’s one of the smallest export markets across Asia. This is despite the fact that it is responsible for almost half of the country’s economic output.
Not only is cheap and broken equipment an ongoing problem for Myanmar farmers, they also have to contend with regular natural disasters and tiny profit margins. It’s a difficult existence for even the most hard-working of farmers in the area.
But for some, 3D printing offers a beacon of hope and change. Social enterprise Proximity Designs is working with farmers to design specific tools for them to use. Full consultation with the farmers is ongoing so they’re guaranteed to have usable farming tools.
Taiei Harimoto is a product designer at Proximity Designs. He said: “We want to create something that farmers find delight in.”
The workshop where the magic happens is an impressive place, lined with robotic arms, farmers tools, mechanical parts and the hollow, black cube that is the 3D printer. Hooked up to a computer, the printer spews out plastic to create everything from the inner workings of a solar pump to the delicate parts needed for a new sprinkler system.
The team can make lots of prototypes cheaply and quickly, so they can perfect designs before money is spent on manufacturing the equipment. When the design is completed, it’s sent overseas for mass production. Something that once would have taken months of work and lots of money can be done much more quickly. And, in the fields, it seems farmers are already seeing their profits increase.
For example, U Kyaw Win is a betel farmer with a very small half acre plot of land situated about 70 miles away from Yangon. His working life and output has been transformed since he received a sprinkler system that had been designed by the 3D printer.
Installed just two months ago, he has found it time saving and profit making. He said: “Using products like this can cut in half the amount of time we have to spend working each day.”
He no longer needs to pay people to water the plants, and can operate this targeted system all by himself. Therefore, he’s saving time and money and enjoying a far better return on his small patch of land. A sign of hope for the farmers of Myanmar in the future.