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Mechanic lightens rice farmers' burden

Update: June, 02/2013 - 16:18

Heavy load: High in the inaccessible mountains, farmers are forced to plough the narrow plateaus with buffalos and cows instead of machines, hampering productivity. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Ha

by Diep Huong

During the harvesting season, the terraced fields in the northeast of Viet Nam produce charming scenery that leaves a vivid imprint in every visitor's memory.

But while the vista may seem effortless and easy on the eye, those beautiful fields are actually the result of strenuous work and toil from the busy farmers.

Located high in the inaccessible mountains, farmers are forced to plough the narrow plateaus with buffalos and cows instead of machines, placing a burden on productivity.

Eager to help mountainous farmers reduce their labour and boost rice yield, 33 year-old mechanic Nguyen Anh Tuan successfully created a hand-held ploughing machine that is ideal for mountainous terrain.

Weighing 72kg, Tuan's machine can climb slopes of up to 65 degrees, is suitable for both ploughing and raking, and is easily transportable. In a single morning, it can plough nearly 2,000sq.m of sloping terrain, equivalent to four times the capability of cattle.

Tuan, from It Ong Town in the northwestern province of Son La, has invented a system of ploughing which can dig 18cm deep into the earth. The machine functions with four types of wheels, which can been changed according to the terrain.

Notably, the machine has a system of floating wheels, to protect it from the familiar ploughing pitfall of sinking into the soil.

Furthermore, in comparison to Chinese and Japanese ploughing machines (which cost over US$1,500), Tuan's plough is much more affordable for Vietnamese farmers, selling at VND16million ($800).

It is hard to believe that this versatile machine is the invention of a mechanic who finished his education after the 11th grade.

In 1999, Tuan, together with his family, moved to It Ong Town to open a workshop.

Despite being born outside Son La Province, since marrying a local ethnic girl the mechanic has come to consider the place as his new hometown.

Observing the abundance of cultivating soil in the area, Tuan had long-considered the potential for a machine that could plough the mountains and reward local farmers for their considerable toil.

Steel buffalo: Tuan beside his invention, which can climb slopes up to 65 degrees steep. The device is suitable for both ploughing and raking and is easy to transport.

For a long time Tuan was seen working silently with the motorbike engine powered machine on the fields, taking down measurements and tinkering with his toy.

He recalls: "During the days I tinkered with the machine, there were two old local men working on fields nearby. Noticing my machine, they offered encouragement: 'Try to finish it so we farmers don't have to work so hard. Please tell us if we can help you at all.'"

It was encouragement such as this that inspired Tuan to pursue his project to completion.

He doesn't remember how many times he suffered a near-miss but the amount of scrap iron left after he finished machine sold for VND63 million ($3,150).

Recalling the early stages of the process, Tuan says: "Due to my lack of mechanical knowhow, I took great efforts to travel across the country studying ways to invent the ploughing machine."

He even spent VND100 million ($5,000) buying foreign ploughing machines just to study their make-up.

Cheap but effective

On May 2010, Tuan debuted his ploughing machine out on the field, drawing the attention of many villagers. Seeing his invention making swift progress, they started to have confidence in Tuan's "steel buffalo". His two first machines were given to the district for sample use and build a buzz among the villagers.

To satisfy market demand, in April 2011 Tuan and some villagers, established the Youth's Co-operative of Farm Machines and Home Craft Service, which focuses on producing hand-held ploughing machines. The co-operative has provided jobs for nearly 20 workers, whose average salary is around VND4,5 million ($225) each per year.

When demand increased, Tuan bravely borrowed VND400million ($20,000) from the National Fund for Employment Support to expand production. He used the money to extend his workshop and buy machinery to produce more ploughing machines.

In recognition of his ground-breaking invention, Nguyen Anh Tuan received the 2010 Luong Dinh Cua Award (a prestigious accolade for young inventors) from the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union.

Tuan's machine is also among 45 creative products to receive the certificate of merit at the 5th National Festival of Young Creators last November.

Tuan's co-operative has so far sold 70 ploughing machines and this figure could be much higher, but they have had to refuse a number of orders due to the limited capacity of their workshop. Tuan has also turned down several offers from investors for the patent to his "steel buffalo".

"The ploughing machine is like my own child. Moreover, my wife was born here, so in some ways it is a gift for my wife's hometown," Tuan says. — VNS

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