On the (rough) road to development

You may know David Wilson as one of the winners of the latest empowering people. Award. He and his team from the American organization, Mobile Agricultural Power Solutions, won a prize with the innovation, the AgRover. This utility vehicle is geared towards farmers in developing regions, who are forced to spend a substantial amount of time and effort with transportation and manual labor. This “farmer’s little helper” is more affordable than a car, can carry more people than a motorcycle, and rests on a stable chassis with options for utility attachments.

Our Network is a dynamic one and our members are pretty dynamic too! Continually striving to improve their innovation, the team has now launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for this. We talked to David about the AgRover and what he and his team are trying to achieve…

David, how did you and your team come up with the idea of the AgRover and why do you think such a vehicle is important?

The AgRover started out as a student project at Purdue University and the problem statement came from a partnership with an NGO in Cameroon, the African Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (ACREST). The student team was tasked with designing a utility vehicle that could carry 2000lbs off-road and could be fabricated in the machine shop at ACREST using only locally sourced parts and materials. After a half-dozen design iterations, the work of many students, including me and my partners, over a period of years, a robust design emerged that met the requirements and more. Not only can the AgRover transport one ton, it can also pull small field implements like planters and cultivators and power attachments like water pumps, maize grinders, and threshing machines.

In Africa, power on the farm comes mostly from human muscles (70%) and animals (25%). Also, basic transportation is either unavailable or unaffordable to small farmers in rural areas. In Nigeria, there are only 31 motor vehicles per 1000 people and about 85% of roads are unpaved. There is a great need for better farm power and transportation solutions to help farmers be more productive and profitable.

What sets the AgRover aside from other vehicles?

The AgRover is multi-purpose, rugged, locally-manufactured, and locally-appropriate. Most other motor vehicles, like cars and trucks, are dedicated to only transportation and can’t be used for other farm operations. Unlike some other three-wheel vehicles available on the African market, the AgRover is tough and can haul heavy payloads in poor road conditions. Also, manufacturing the AgRover in-country lowers the cost, creates jobs, and builds the small but growing manufacturing industry in Africa. Finally, because all the parts and materials used to manufacture the AgRover can be found locally, the vehicle can be easily maintained and repaired because the maintenance skills and replacement parts already exist locally.

How do you rate the impact the AgRover has on everyday farmer’s lives? Where is the vehicle currently being used?

Prototypes and demonstration AgRovers have been built in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. As of now, the most impact has been in Cameroon where the AgRovers are used daily by ACREST staff to meet most of their transportation needs. In addition, ACREST has rented the vehicles to farmers during harvest season to carry the produce from their fields. Whereas the work in the other countries has been through the university, MAPS’s first, independent project has been in Nigeria where we have setup the first workshop dedicated to the manufacturing of AgRovers. This week we are finishing the first AgRover made here in Nigeria and it will soon be operating on a palm oil farm.

Why have you launched a crowdfunding initiative?

The crowdfunding campaign is important for supporting this early phase of our startup in Nigeria. To gain interest and traction in the Nigerian market, we need to manufacture and implement several more AgRovers and expand our workshop for more efficient production. The upcoming sale of our first vehicle is a major milestone, but we need to bridge the gap between now and future customers. The crowdfunding campaign is critical to the success of our Nigerian project.

How would you like to optimize the AgRover?

Until now, the AgRover has only been built a few at a time. At this stage, we are working on optimizing the design for manufacturing in an assembly line process. Also, we are developing a consistent supply of parts. Finally, we will be working on standardizing the power take-off and hitch attachments.

What have you been your biggest challenges over the last couple of years?

One of the biggest challenges has been the transition from developing a vehicle design that can be built in any basic workshop to developing a business based on manufacturing the AgRover. To me as an engineer, the technical aspects are a clearer task, but I’ve learned a lot about the business aspects of what we are doing. From business plans and financial models to media and marketing, there are many parts of running a business that I’m becoming familiar with. I’m thankful for my team of talented individuals, dedicated to bringing the AgRover to the communities that need it.

Are you working on any other projects which have social impact in developing regions?

Not yet, but we do plan on expanding our range of agricultural machinery products in the future. Even now, the same project at Purdue University is working on a new vehicle design that is smaller and even more affordable. If successful, this could be the next product of MAPS, targeting smaller farms.

If you want to invest in AgRover, please visit https://igg.me/at/AgRover