Made-in-MIT straw choppers for farmers


The second prototype of the straw chopper designed at MIT.
Jorhat, May 12 : Light, durable and cheap is the straw chopper, which the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is designing in partnership with the Mushroom Development Foundation, Guwahati, so that small farmers in the state can supplement their income via mushroom farming.
Pranjal Baruah, member of the foundation, which is a citizens’ organisation, said there was great need of a straw-cutter, which could be easily handled by women also. The present design was heavy and bulky and required two men to use it and was also expensive and easily breakable.
“The innovation, which the MIT students are designing, is something that can be made easily by village blacksmiths with locally available scrap and can be maintained by a cycle repair shop or motor garage, unlike the present chaff-cutter, which is unwieldy, expensive, breaks down frequently and is very costly to maintain,” Baruah said.
The need for the chopper arose when the foundation started its promotion of mushroom cultivation in Northeast.
The foundation felt that through mushroom cultivation a marginal farmer would not have to depend on the income of one-season cultivation of paddy, as was the practice in the region in the absence of largescale irrigation facilities.
Baruah, a pioneer of commercial mushroom cultivation, said straw was the base for mushrooms to grow and for the spawn to feed on the nutrients it was required to be cut.
The first problem the foundation discovered was the resistance to take up mushroom cultivation, as it was difficult for people to cut straw with the existing machine.
“We first tried to develop a straw chopper here locally, but failed miserably. Then we contacted Paul Pollock, entrepreneur and product developer based in the US, who contacted MIT in 2009. An MIT professor, E. Jones, came here in 2010 and saw the machine but did not know what to do. The developed countries do not require straw choppers, as they use harvesters. After returning, he studied the samples of all choppers from different parts of the world and found that all were more or less the same, designed by a British engineer in the late 18th century,” Baruah said.
IIT Guwahati is trying to make a mechanised straw chopper, as it envisages this to be a potential area, which could change the economy.
The MIT team comprising Lusann Yang, Majda Almarzouqi, Vanessa Zhang, F. Montalvo and Lana Awad have taken the initiative to improve community services in India and some other countries so that farmers can benefit through alternate opportunities and also create opportunities for a second group, which could manufacture and repair the machines.
Vanessa, who liases with the foundation, said in a recent email to Baruah that a prototype was ready and only a few improvisations had to be made to make it more efficient.