By Air Force Master Sgt. James Law
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 16, 2008 - Provincial reconstruction teams are engaged daily in large-scale projects in Afghanistan, building roads, bridges, schools and medical facilities to help the Afghan government develop its infrastructure. They also contribute small ideas that have the potential for large-scale impact. One such idea was to design and fabricate a hand-held seed spreader for farmers to spread fertilizer.
"Our Department of Agriculture representative came to me and said, 'I heard you could design stuff. Is there any way to design a seed spreader?'" said Air Force Staff Sgt. Tim Bayes, engineering noncommissioned officer in charge for the PRT here.
Bayes explained that Afghan farmers currently spread their fertilizer by hand. This method places more fertilizer in some areas and less in others.
"If you go out there, you can see the inconsistency in the growth patterns in the fields," Bayes said. "If they can effectively spread the fertilizer so their growth pattern is consistent, it could increase their crops by 15 to 25 percent annually."
Understanding the impact the simple idea could have, Bayes started the design, and spoke with contractors and local citizens to find out what materials the local Afghan farmers have available.
"Nuts and bolts are pretty easy to come by," he said. "Pieces of plywood or just chunks of wood, and tin cans or canvas bags were the materials we had to work with."
After a day and a half of design, Bayes met with the Department of Agriculture representative to review the blueprint and make final adjustments before building a prototype.
"It took me about half a day to build it," he said. "This is kind of different -- a little bit unique compared to what we normally do -- and it was fun to do it."
Bayes added that during a discussion with the Afghan government's Department of Agriculture representative, the idea of having prisoners build the spreader for distribution was addressed.
"They were talking about using the prisoners to possibly build these so they could do it cheap, effectively and distribute them out -- at least to get them out so the people can see what they are made out of and how they are made," Bayes said.
Once the spreader is distributed to some, he explained, the farmers could share with each other so those without a spreader could build one themselves.
"It not only helps them as far as income, but an increase in crops will also help supply and demand in the local economies," Bayes said. "If it helps 10 farmers to produce more crops to help people, then it was worth it."
(Air Force Master Sgt. James Law serves with 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)