An Innovation Born Out Of Hardships—A Mechanical Weeder For Small Farmers Everywhere
For about half the Indian population, agriculture is the primary source of income. But farmers lose a large portion of their yield to the menace of weeds, or undesirable plants, constantly growing near their crops. Weeds feed on the nutrients provided to the soil, thereby reducing supply for the crops and obstructing their growth. Further, because of their tendency to proliferate, weeding a farm by hand can become extremely tedious.
When Dharma Teja, the son of a farmer, saw his father struggle to remove weeds, he vowed to build a solution. His innovation—a mechanical weeder—helped solve the issue and won him the second prize at the Agri-Hackathon.
“At first, the main reason to develop this device was to use it on our own farms,” Dharma says, recounting the moment he decided to embark on this journey. “At times, there is a large growth of weed in our farms, and labourers often refuse to remove them because of the difficulty in doing so as well as the time needed. And if they agree, they demand higher wages. Now, farmers like my father have a small holding and cannot afford to hire many labours to ease the overall burden or purchase the machinery in the market,” he says.“My father has to do it himself and it takes him days of backbreaking work just to cover his farm land once.”
Considering these factors, Dharma decided to create a weeder so small farmers like his father could carry out the weeding process more easily and faster while also avoiding the hassle involved with hiring labour. “I thought of resolving this problem to help a small farmer, and finally, with the help of my father, came up with this solution,” he says.
Now a student of B.Tech. Civil Engineering in VaagdeviCollege,Dharma was always interested in building equipment for the ease of agriculture. He participated in the Agri-Hackathon for competing to solve India’s farming problems. The Agri-Hackathon—organised by the Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad (RICH) and the Vaagdevi Group of Colleges—is a platform for innovators in the agriculture sector to showcase their ideas and receive the chance to get prize money and incubation support. Dharma needed this support to improve his weeder even further.
Dharma is aware that the market is filled with mechanical weeders. So, how is his innovation different from the other devices? “There is more working efficiency in the model that I have created. And 70% of the labour costs can be reduced through this innovation,” Dharma explains. His product will cost only around ₹3000, meaning every small farmer will be able to easily purchase it as a one-time investment that will continuously save them money. Moreover, the device can be used for ploughing and grass removal as well.
Another differentiating factor is that the weeder can be adjusted based on the height and comfort of the user. Adjustments can also be made based on the root depth of the weeds, so that the blade which removes the weed can pick it up from the roots.
Reminiscing about the ‘aha!’ moment that led him to the innovation, Dharma says that he read a book named Annadata, aweekly supplement that discusses problems and solutions related to agriculture. The book also talks about how farmers should invest in making simple technologies for themselves, which will make them self-sufficient. Having read the book, Dharma realised that he could use the accessories from his bicycle to make his mechanical weeder.
Dharma and his father performedpilot studies with the weeder on their own farm and so far, it has been a success.The device allows his father to complete the weeding of half an acre by himself in one day. In two days, his father is able to finish weeding the whole farm, having saved the fortune it would have cost him to hire labour for the task.
Spurred by this success, and backed by the support he is now receiving from RICH after winning the Agri-Hackathon, Dharma wants to make his device useful for small, medium, and large land-holding farmers alike, adding further modifications to it and making it even more customisable. “Through the Agri-Hackathon, other farmers have come to know about our weeder and benefit from it. Some farmers have even approached me to ask how much it will cost them to buy and use. This is very encouraging for me,” he says.
And yet, Dharma has no plans of resting at the end of the journey for this weeder’s development, and he continues on the road to innovation. His fuel, partly, the Agri-Hackathon itself. “Here, we did not just make our product known, but also listened to explanations of other products by different makers. I saw stuff that makes life easy for farmers and how they benefit farmers. I liked that very much,” he says.
Let’s hope the Teja in him always remains as radiant as it is today.