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Senior Design Team Makes A Difference in Thailand Using Appropriate Technological Fixes in Farming Tools

January 18, 2011

Thailand HillsJanuary 18, 2011  Everyday you wake up with the same goal: to farm so you can feed yourself and your village. Your village is hard to access; it’s in mountainous area in Thailand with no electricity. You make your way out to the 50-degree angle slope where your crops are located.  Your day is spent working away with simple handheld tools that require you to constantly bend over, knowing that this will most likely cause permanent damage to your body. You also know that after all of the effort, there may not be enough rice for your village at the end of the process. If you lived in the Bo Klua region of Thailand, this would be your life.

The members of the Drexel University College of Engineering Thai Harvest Initiative are dedicating their senior design project to helping the farmers in this area of Thailand. After two trips to Bo Klua, the team chose to focus on finding solutions to provide less chronic back pain, better efficiency to farm quicker and higher crop yields. They will do this through an engineering approach called “Technology Seeding,” which is development by the transfer and local adaptation of the simplest appropriate designs.

“We’re now working from first engineering principles and with inspiration from existing designs to develop tools and methods to meet their needs,” says Alex Moseson, an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and co-advisor to the initiative.

Moseson added, “Beyond just working technically, they must be small-scale, simple, affordable, equitable and environmentally sound. Practically, this means using local materials, being aware of social conditions and much more”.

Also working on the project are senior Mechanical Engineering students Kathleen Rizzo, RJ Bauer, Marie LaPosta, Drexel Biomedical Engineering senior Phuong Diep-Lam and Graphic Design Senior Kathryn VenVertloh. Dr. James Tangorra, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Alex Moseson are advising them on this influential project.

“Economics are key to the acceptability of the tools, as the farmers live on a narrow margin,” said LaPosta.

LaPosta added, “Our funding is all from donations. We have reached out to friends, family and local businesses for sponsorship and are continuing to do so. We have been selling a variety of items produced in the Bo Klua region using natural materials and traditional methods which Alex was able to purchase from the creators and bring back after his trip. We've also received a promise of some funding from the College of Engineering.”
The Thai Harvest Initiative team hopes to greatly improve the lives of the farmers in the Bo Klua region of Thailand. Further updates are to come on the Thai Harvest Initiative.