This blog post aims to chronicle our journey of finding a viable solution for an efficient method of plucking, collecting and storing castor fruits. Castor seeds have a plethora of uses, they have a very high medicinal value and the by-products are used as fertilizers .Castor plucking is a very tedious process and we want to work with our partners- castor farmers to gain sufficient insight to identify the real problems. We want our device to be desirable, technically feasible and economically viable.

 

PROBLEM STATEMENT

Design a device for Castor farmers that will increase the efficiency of plucking and capacity of collection, which will reduce the pain due to frequent movement of arm and that has the ability to reach 6-7 feet of height effortlessly. 

 

PRIOR RESEARCH

 

Description of plant- The castor is usually 4 to 6 feet in height but the wild ones can grow upto 10 feet. It ears castor fruits in bunches. The fruits is small, round and thorny. The stem is fibrous, once dried up it becomes hollow. The thorns are present only on the fruit. One plant can be harvested 4 to 6 times on an average. They are harvested when a bunch becomes partially yellow.

                                            

 

 

Traditional method of plucking-Traditionally the farmers carry a “Faatiyu” (Open Plastic bag) with then which hangs on their shoulders and is usually made of plastic. They use either a farmer’s scissor or a sickle to cut the “Maal” (Bunch). They hold the maal using one hand and cut the branch using the other. Then the bunch is put in the “Faatiyu”. As soon as the “Faatiyu” is full, all the “maals” are emptied on to a huge plastic sheet. And this is repeated until all the fruits are harvested. They are then dried under the sun for a week. They are then put in a thresher to the seeds.                                        

Automated harvesters - Combined harvesters with tractor attachments available.

 Eg: John Deere 9940.

 

 

 

INFORMATION MIND MAP

#updated information is in red

Elaborating the Mind Map:

 

SAFETY

storage – no safety techniques are currently used. But, storage is for a minimal amount of time, the castor after plucking is immediately put under the sun (1 week).

Plucking – due to the heat and insufficiency of air they do not wear any heavy clothing. They wear “chappals”. Due to this they are very prone to getting injured by the thorns both on the plant and on the ground.

 

STORAGE

The plucked castor is immediately put to dry on a large plastic sheet under the sun. its then put in the thresher. Finally, its sold for extraction.

 

COLLECTION

Current method – a plastic bag is slung over the shoulder and the plucked castor is put into it as and when it is cut. The capacity depends on the size of the bag and the physical capacity of the farmer as well.

Weight of the bag- as soon as the bag is full it requires to be emptied.

 

PROBLEMS

 

Collection-Filling and emptying -  the constant filling and emptying leads to a frequent to and fro movement. Hence, a loss in time and exhaustion for the farmers.

Shoulder and back pain- the weight of the bag on the shoulder for a long time leads to shoulder pain.

Storage-It depends on the weather conditions (needs maximum sunlight). Pest infestation accounts for a very minimal percentage in loss.

Plucking-Pest infestation – caterpillars on the leaves and termites on th stem are the 2 main forms of pest infestation. Both do not affect the castor fruits.

Hands get injured- when they hold the branch bend it and then cut it off, sometimes small thorns may injure them.

Falling of castor- when they bend the branch some of the dry castor may fall – they fallen castor is not collected and this accounts for 4-5% loss.

Height- when the bunches are slightly higher, the farmers bend the branches. If the branches get damaged the bunch has very little probability of re-growing.

Damaging of other branches – sometimes harsh bending of one branch can damage others and also lead to the dry castor falling.

 

PLUCKING

Bunching-At a time, immature and mature both kind of bunches are found on the plant. The mature ones have the chances of falling. The fallen ones, though being good are not picked up by the farmer and causes loss of yield by 4-5%.

Production-The manual production has a number of stats that we obtained in the prior research and field visits. The plucking usually takes place between 7 AM to 11 AM and 3PM 6 PM for which the labourers are paid ₹60 per 3 hours.

The farmers who don’t have threshers, outsource the process for which they pay ₹50 per 100 kgs. of castor fruit.

Because of the inefficient techniques, the farming of castor has gone down by 80% decreasing the price per kg to almost half.

As per the farmers, it takes 4 people 5-6 hours to harvest 1 beegha land (0.4 Acre) and an approx. yield of 2000 kgs is obtained from 1.4 acres.

Plucking Techniques-Primarily, manual technique of cutting the bunch using a scissor or a sickle is used. Automatic techniques involving harvesters attached to tractors are also used but not in mass as it’s expensive.

Structure of the plant-The plant is very delicate as the stems get bent very easily. The thorns are present only on the fruit and nowhere else in the plant. When it gets dry, the stems become hollow.

The plant has two varieties ie. Male and female. The female one are used for getting the seeds that can be replanted and male ones for getting the oil.Usually the castor plant reached to the height of 3-6 ft, but some varieties can be 10ft tall.

Sowing and Harvesting-There are two season in which sowing can be done. One is in the monsoon which starts giving the fruits in 2 months ie. By November and the other is in winter which starts giving fruits in 3 months ie. by March.

Usually the plucking is done in the morning between 7AM to 11 AM when the fruits are a little moist resulting in less hurting due to spikes.

The crop can be harvested from the same plant 4-6 times per season and are harvested ones the fruit gets partially yellow.

 

 

 

INTERVIEW 1

NAME- Gautham
PLACE-Grambharti
DATE  -28th May 2017

Ph.No. 9913622503

 

Key points

The seeds are sown during September and December and are harvested in November and March respectively.

Stats- 4 people take around 5 hours to harvest 0.4 acres (1 beegha).

           1.4 acres gives 2000kgs of castor.

Economics- Previously, 20 kgs was sold for approximately ₹1600. Now the price has fallen to nearly half the value.

The farmers use a scissor like device.

 

PURPOSE OF FIELD VISIT

To analyse and understand the current methodology used for the plucking and collection of castor, to gain insight and identify the problems faced by the farmers due to this method,

 

FIELD VISIT 1

DATE- 29th May 2017

PLACE- Grambharthi

NAME- Indrajitbhai

Ph.No- 8238281822

 

Observations

 We saw a lone castor tree it was about 10 feet in height.

It was a wild tree and it was completely dried up but it had castor fruits that we could pluck.

We observed the texture of the fruit and structure of the plant. Indrajit bhai explained and showed us how the castor is plucked traditionally.

 

FIELD VISIT 2

DATE- 29th May 2017

PLACE- Manekpur

NAME- Sohambhai

AGE   - 20 years

Ph. No. 8488949700

 

Key learnings

The species of castor that grew on this plantation was called “kana thapi”. There is another special variety -“sagar 111” that has a 5 feet long “maal”.

There is a 3 feet gap between 2 rows in the castor plantation.

3-4% of the castors are lost because they fall down, either naturally or in the process of plucking. The farmers don’t pick up the fallen ones due to time constraint and the tedious nature of the process.

Most of the plucking is done in the morning- 7 am to 11 am. The labourers are paid ₹60 for this.

- 30-40% profit is gained.

The pests that infest the castor plants are caterpillars (leaves) and termites (stem). There is very minimal loss in production due to this. To prevent this they use Urea and DAP.

Branches that are slightly higher are bent with one hand are cut with the help of a sickle. But in the process if the branch is bent too much and it gets damaged, there is very little probability that a new bunch will grow on that branch. Hence a loss is incurred in the productivity.

Many of the dry castors fall when they pull the branch.

Once it is harvested, the castor fruits are kept to dry under the sun for nearly a week. It’s later put in the thresher (costs ₹200 for 1 hour).

While plucking the castor seeds, the thorns injure them. They usually wear “chappals” and they sometimes get hurt because of the fallen castors seeds and thorns.

 

Grouping of Insights from first brainstorming session:-

 

Height

Shoulder & back pain

Branches get bent

Dry castor pod fall

Loss of yield

Not able to reach

Brushing (skin)

 

Movement of arm

Pain(shoulder, elbow, wrist)

Falling of dry

Brushing against bushes

Time of day

 

Collection Capacity

To and fro (Tired and time)

Pain

Brushing against plantation

 

FIELD VISIT 3

DATE- 29th May 2017

PLACE- Grambharati

NAME- Bakanjibhai

AGE   - 60 years (energy of a 20 year old and 40 years of experience!)

Ph. No. 7069991203

 

We brainstormed on the observation data that we received from our prior art, first and second field visit and the information mind map. We gathered insights and prioritized on the problems. After that we approached Bankajibhai to verify our research data.

 

He demonstrated the entire process of plucking and collecting the castor fruits using a sickle - “dataradu” and a plastic gunny bag -“faatiyu”. Through his demo we could identify the problems and could verify the data.

 

EMPATHY MAP

 

 

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Our story, Our learnings ..... 

 

To understand what the problem really is, it is important to get completely involved. Through this journey we realised that some of the “problems” we thought were the biggest turned out to be the smallest. We realised what the real problems were only when we connected ourselves to what the farmers experienced everyday. In order to gain sufficient insight we have to completely immerse ourselves in the context of the problem. Through the brainstorming session we understood the importance of team work and collaborative thinking.

The whole inspiration process was a great source of learning for all of us. Sometimes we immediately jump to the solution and we assume that  we have solved it, but reality is that we have solved a very superficial problem and not the real problem.

       -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

In the process of castor harvesting, once the all the bunches are dried the farmers beat them in order to separate the fruits from the bunch. This process takes about 4-5 hours (for about 150 kgs). We decided to design a device that would combine both processes- plucking and separating.

 

Review about this idea

DATE_- 31st May

NAME - Bapukaka

Ph No.-  9696863649

PLACE - Manekpur

 

We explained our idea of combining the plucking and separating process, he was very excited about it. This was very encouraging for us and we went ahead and started pursuing this idea.

Since castor picking season was over, we could see all the bunches drying out in the sun in his farm.

He gave us 30 castor bunches so that we could test all our prototypes and mechanisms.

 

Our basic principle was to have a small circular ring that would move through the length of the castor stem and separate all the fruits from the bunch.

 

The problems we had to keep in mind were:

 

- Not to damage the branch – not too forceful.

- Not let any fruits fall out – effective temporary collecting.

- Removing the castors that were at a height

- The farmers should not apply to much effort or force.

                                                                 

                                                  IDEATION PHASE

 

Soon after this we started putting down all the designs and mechanisms we had in mind.

 

We wanted to test our hypothesized designs so we decided to do some rapid prototyping.

 

Prototype 1 

 

DATE - 3rd June

 

Description of prototype

The larger cylinder collects all the fallen and cut castor fruits. The blade inside is sharp enough to cut the castor fruits. We have a scissor like system, so that it can be conveniently hand held. To check its feasibility we made it with what ever material was available at the lab, hence it became bigger and much more heavier than expected. The actual product was to be made with plastic and was to be single hand operated.

 

Feedback on prototype-

 

From Bakanjibhai –

 

He liked the idea of having the separating mechanism. But since our prototype was made of metal it was naturally very heavy.

A few points he told us were:

-decrease its weight.

-It takes too much time, since it is operated with both hands.

-make sure no fruits fall out.

 

The changes we decided to make after the feedback from users and Prof. Anil Gupta:

 

1.Incorporate a cutting mechanism for the bunches that are at a height.

2.Taper at top.

3.Make it single hand operated.

 

This design wasn’t too feasible and we had technical difficulties in making it single hand operated.

We wanted to imbibe the natural pulling motion, hence we came up with our second design.  

 

PROTOTYPE 2

 

DATE- 4th June

 

Description of prototype

This consists of a long tube (diameter- approx. width of a castor bunch) with 3 circular cutters at the base. There are rubber handles on the outside so that the farmer can conveniently hold the tube. The tube temporarily collects all the plucked castor fruits.The tube is hinged so that it can be opened and closed.

 

 

Feedback on prototype-

 

From Bakanjibhai:

He liked both the idea and design. He said it was feasible and usable. One thing he told us was to increase the tube size.

 

Feedback from 3 castor farmers in Manekpur:

They gave a very positive response to our idea and found the idea of combining plucking and separating very good. A few points they gave were:

-Rubber is not durable.

-We need to have a stronger base.

-Cutting mechanism must be incorporated.

-Having a trolley with wheels to collect and temporarily store the castors will be useful.

They wanted us to design something like this to cut jowar too.

 

One thing we realised, is that we must try this out on a tree in order to really find its true effectiveness. Our next challenge was to include a cutting mechanism in the device.

 

We got the opportunity to discuss our project with prof. K M Patel, we could get lots of valuable input-

-Have a cutter perpendicular to the hinge- opening direction, this way it will not hinder the cutting.

-Use aluminium for the cylindrical profile and disc for mounting sharp edged blades.

-he suggested a better blade design so as to endure more force.

-He helped us in understanding how to take a product from prototype to a production stage.

 

Prof Anil Gupta was happy to see the simplicity of the device and he discussed with us how it can be used for other crops as well.

 

Embedding the cutting mechanism in the device

 

After the field testing of our second prototype, we realized that the bunches at a height cannot be separated – as, the pulling motion will become very strenuous. Some key points based on the brainstorming session and suggestions from mentors were-

  • A flat blade is required for cutting – a scissor like mechanism (like in garden scissors)

  • The blade can be embedded perpendicular to the hinge. This way it will not hinder the pulling motion

  • Our second option is to have a hand held scissor and use the device to hold on the bunch ( this will help in preventing the falling of castor fruits.                                                                                                                                                             COLLECTION

Currently the castor farmers have a cloth bag that is tied around their shoulders. During the unloading of castor bunches (on to the big sheet for drying) they have to re- tie the knots. This is a time consuming process. The bag itself is very heavy over their shoulder and the castor fruit’s thorns hurt their backs constantly. To prevent this we decided to device a movable frame on which the farmer can place his bag – for temporary collection.

 

This device consists of a metallic square frame with wheels. A handle bar is attached so as to ease the pushing/pulling of it.

 

Prototype 3

 This consists of an oval shaped outer covering (less strain on the wrist for the opening and closing movement) with the modified version of the blade inside. We added a Velcro adjustable handle to make it universal. The upper part of the cylinder has a metal mesh – it gives visibility and also makes it lighter.

 

FEEDBACK on prototype 3:

  1. NAME: Bhupendra Singh bhai                                                               PLACE: Aluwa                                                                                  DATE: 9th June 2017                                                                                  Ph No: 9898070928

The key learnings from our interaction with him were:

  • On his farm, type 4 and 7 of castor grows. These are usually bigger and longer ( 1 to 1.5 ft in length and 15 cm in diameter). Hence, we must make the blade and the outer cylinder bigger.

  • A trolley will not be feasible because they will have to push and pull it every time. One more reason is that, some of the castor bunches grow very low (2 feet off the ground) and this hinders the motion of the trolley.

Bhupendra Singh bhai wasn’t a labourer and he completely denied the existence of the problem. This was a very important piece of learning for our team, we realised that all the feedback must be taken only from the people who actually do the work on the farm. The data we got from him was contradicting and very discouraging for our team, but the learning was very important.

  1. NAME: Keshav bhai                                                                               PLACE: Aluwa                                                                                  DATE: 9th June 2017                                                                            Ph No: 8140419809

Our interaction with Keshav bhai was interesting and very useful. He has been working for nearly 60 years, his daughters also used to work on the farm before they got married. On the farm that he works they plant a hybrid type ( this gave them double the yield). This particular type gives long and large bunches, they are harvested when they are partially dry – and the thorns really hurt their hands at this stage. He really liked our device. He can carry roughly 30 kgs on his back and he uses a fertilizer bag to temporarily store the castor bunches on his back. He found the idea of a trolley very good but he said that we will have to test this on a field to be sure about its feasibility. Regarding the cost, he said that he was willing to pay about 250 rupees for our device.

 

  1. NAME: Arjun bhai and Jeevatben                                                      PLACE: Aluwa                                                                                  DATE: 9th June 2017                                                                             Ph No: 9824735215

 

This interaction was wonderful because we got to talk to a woman farmer. We got some great insights through this interaction. Some key highlights were-

  • Firstly, our device must have a bigger blade and cylindrical covering.

  • The weight of our device is fine.

  • In the process of plucking, they do hurt their hands- they have to oil it every night. Sometimes the thorns even go in their eyes.

  • Jeevatben said she could carry a maximum of 10kgs on her back. Hence, she had to make many more trips in the emptying process. She liked the trolley idea but said that the “faatiya” that they use currently is more convenient for them.

  • They pay around rupees 50 for a sickle. Thus, they would not pay more than 100 rupees for our device.

 

  1. NAME: Taljabhairabara                                                                  PLACE: Aluwa                                                                                  DATE: 9th June 2017

 

On Taljabhai’s field, type 4,5 and 7 of castor variety is grown. He has around 50 to 60 years of experience. Yet again, the first thing he said was that it must be made bigger. He liked the concept and said that it would save a lot of time (they spend a whole day in beating the fruits of the dried castors) and 50% of the work is reduced. He could verify one major concern we had- the arm movement- he said that there is no major strain on his arm and the arm movement is not very different from what is currently being done (still, it must be tested on a field for complete verification). Although, accommodating to the device will take some time. In the design – he said that the rubber handle is more convenient and having 3 blades s better than having one blade. At the most he was willing to pay 100 rupees for the device as the current technique-the sickle, is extremely cheap.

  • He didn’t find any major difference between prototype 2 and 3 -  based on comfort level.

 

On his farm he also grew “moong” and he said that this device can be used to harvest the moong beans as well. He tried it and was very happy about it. Using this device in harvesting moong will reduce the work load of 5 people to one person.

 

 

Our key learning and what we want to implement in our next prototype-

 

  • Make the blade size bigger.

  • Make the outer covering circular.

  • Add a cloth layer on the adjustable Velcro handle.

Limitations of our prototype:

 

Ergonomically the opening and closing motion of device can induce strain in palm of the worker.

Economically the device is more expensive than the sickle that they use. Moreover, the device can only be used for plucking purpose while the sickle can be used for multiple tasks.

Leaving traditional plucking method and adapting new technology/device may be of concern.

 

 

Road Ahead

 

The device will be made more cost effective. 

A cutting mechanism will be embedded in it.

Device will not only be used for plucking castor but for other crops which requires time and are laborious like “Moong” as well.

 

 

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About the authors:

Aman Aggarwal - MTech TERI University, Delhi.

Ishit Patel - LDRP Institute of Technology and Research, Gandhinagar. 

Naman Singh Kanaujia- BTech IIT, Delhi. 

Shreya Shankar - Student Mahindra World School, Chennai. 

Tarak Doshi -BTech VIT, Vadodara. 

 

 

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