Rapid Prototyping to Assist Grassroots Farmers

A country long held under military administration, Myanmar is slowly making its way into becoming a more democratic state after decades of devastation and civil war. In the midst of its political winds of change, the impoverished farmers of the country are beginning to see hope in a rather unusual technology that is still not that widespread in developing countries. 3D printing and rapid prototyping technologies can benefit rural farmers in rather innovative ways. The farmers will be able to reap the benefits of rapid prototyping by making replacement parts and specialized tools on the go. These parts have not been accessible to them for many years due to the severe isolation that came from military rule. Hence rapid prototyping can take farming in Myanmar ahead many years!


Custom Farming Tools for Farmers

In order to be of use to local farmers, the new rapid prototyping project is taking place in the largest city in the country as well as South East Asia- Yangon. Proximity Designs, a Myanmar-based social enterprise is at the helm of this project in the former capital of the country. The specialists of the company are using rapid prototyping, 3D printing and 3D modeling in order to create customized farming tools that could be of great use to poor rural farmers. The organization is working in close ties with Burmese farmers of the grassroots level to make sure that the tools they are manufacturing will actually be of use to them.

It is quite unlikely to come across blue lit platforms 3D printers are whizzing, occasionally making whirring and squeaking sounds, liquid filament coming out of their chrome tips to be seen anywhere around the muddy, lush green crop fields that surround Yangon. However, in an industrial park situated in the south of the commercial hub of Myanmar, this advanced technology of rapid prototyping is being used to make bespoke parts for agricultural use. These parts are set to change the lives of the underprivileged and impoverished Burmese farmers.

Under the tyrannical, isolationist rule of the military, the manufacturing sector of the country was suffering immensely for over five decades. This forced farmers to remain limited to their own tools or to use century old ill-adapted imported products. Hence the poor equipment they had used thus far took a toll on how they grew crops, adding to the hardship of farmers in this disaster-prone nation. Even though Myanmar happens to be one of the poorest agricultural producers in all of Asia, farmers still account for over half of the country’s economy output. Hence it was high time for some innovators to come forward and bring about change. This job is being done by Proximity Designs, who are using cutting-edge rapid prototyping devices and 3D printers to make specially adapted tools after consultation with farmers using them.


The Journey so Far

Founded in 2004 by Debbie Aung Din and Jim Taylor, Proximity Designs began with an aim to be of assistance to the rural population in Myanmar by fabricating new technologies and tools; in turn making them more accessible. The company now has a staff of more than 350 and they are realizing their goal gradually.

So far, Proximity Design has been using rapid prototyping to make models and develop actual innovative products for farming. Their work includes designing of a sprinkler system, as well as the internal parts for a solar pump to be used in the fields. It is not unknown how rapid prototyping helps cut down costs in most industries. Similarly, Proximity Designs too reports that rapid prototyping is helping them cut down on the prototyping turn-over and hence shortening overall time for production. This, in turn, has significantly reduced the cost of producing these parts. Once the stage of 3D printing and rapid prototyping is complete, Proximity Designs begins to ship its farming tools to factories outside of the country for mass production of the parts.

According to product designer Taiei Harimoto, the company believes in creating devices that farmers find delight in. At their workshop, robotic arms are lined on the walls near many benches that are full of mechanical parts and tools. The printer they are using is a black, hollow cube that has a needle inside. Attached to a computer, this printer is already helping to design parts for a solar pump and a sprinkler system.


Delight of the Farmers

Reportedly, farmers of Myanmar are already reaping the benefits of having brand new equipment and tools for better farming. For instance, a betel farmer Kyaw Win who owns a small farm of half an acre just outside Yangon is overjoyed with the new sprinkler system that he installed. This 3D printed sprinkler system has changed how his betel farm is watered. Before the sprinklers came in, farmers had to pay laborers to water their plants manually using buckets. This physically straining work not only added to the cost but also did not provide sufficient water to the plants. Win has been using this sprinkler for over two months and is satisfied at the reduced labor and increased profits because of it. Thanks to the sprinkler system, Win believes that the costs of cultivation have been reduced to about half and he is also seeing a better yield of crops.

Burmese farmers constitute 80% of the total population of Myanmar and they could benefit immensely from these new farming tools and equipment. This would help them to increase productivity, all the while keeping labor and cost at a minimal.


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