The Agrilab works with communities of people with disability in rural areas of Cambodia to co-design technology that gives them better access to agricultural livelihoods.
A total of 79% of Cambodia’s 16.5 million people live in rural areas, with most engaging in farming. Cambodia is also home to approximately 1.5 million people with disabilities due to landmine injuries, age, road traffic crashes, congenital conditions and malnutrition as a result of the Khmer Rouge era.
People with disability in Cambodia fall within the lowest 20% of income earners and have less than US$22 disposable income per month, and therefore rely heavily on subsistence farming and support from their communities and local NGOs.
Traditional farming methods are labor-intensive and can usually be undertaken by younger community members without difficulty. However, in recent years, large numbers of youths are opting out of farm work in favor of factory work near larger townships. This has created a labor shortage in rural areas, and has resulted in people with disabilities, particularly elderly individuals, having to undertake these tasks themselves, or rent their land to other families and only receive a fraction of what they could earn if they sold their own produce at the markets.
Based on our experience working with the local disability sector and communities of people with disability, we know that these individuals are innovative and motivated to solve their own problems; however, to date they have not been given the opportunities, materials, tools or technical support to practise innovative problem-solving. The Agrilab – a collaboration with Light For The World and EWB Australia – aims to address this.
This year, Agrilab has worked with 60 people with disability within two farming communities in Cambodia’s Pursat Province to create assistive technologies so that people with disability can pursue the type of farming that they choose. Working alongside community members who have a wide range of ages and impairments, technologies such as rice seeders for elderly farmers and motorised cassava harvesting carts for mobility-impaired farmers have been created.
Supported by Australian Volunteer Field Professional Angus Mitchell and EWB’s Technology Development Lead, Andrew Drain, a co-design process was applied that incorporated workshops, design iterations and prototyping, as we worked together to develop a range of appropriate technology solutions. This year, EWB facilitated three specific projects. You can watch a video of the process here.
Vertical Power Assist Module (VPAM)
Designed as an add-on to existing wooden transport carts, the VPAM aims to create easy motorised transport at a low price point (compared to buying a moped or a large tractor). It uses electric motors and components readily available in the community.
Water Pump Cart
It is common for community members to carry buckets and walk to and from their source of water, such as a well, a stream, or a river. For people with mobility or dexterity impairments, walking short to medium distances, or walking downhill to get to a water source can be challenging. This unit aims to create motorised walking assistance. It also uses an electric pump to extract water from the source into a tank (which sits on the cart itself), and then pump the water from the tank to the final location where it will be stored and used.
An initial design and prototype already created by the disability-focused organisation Light For The World and community, with no engineering input, delivered a solid proof of concept from which to further develop this assistive technology. The Accessible Moto aims to enable better access to independent transport for those who are already using a wheelchair.
EWB continues its work with our partner community to test and refine the prototypes and work with our network of engineering volunteers to develop final, robust technologies. These new designs will then be fabricated locally in Pursat, and placed into longer-term testing with our partner community and closely monitored for reliability and effectiveness.
Finally, alongside this technical work, a sustainable implementation model is being developed that builds upon our partner organisation – the Disability Development Services Program – and their existing inclusive training centre in Pursat, to enable local manufacture, maintenance and disposal.
There is a lot of work left ahead of the design team, but the foundation laid through the AgriLab project is robust, community-centred, inclusive and ready for future support and impact.
Sreymom’s moto freedom
The need for an Accessible Moto was initially identified by Sreymom – an administrator (and wheelchair user) at EWB’s local partner NGO in Cambodia’s Pursat Province. Sreymom found it challenging to travel to and from work, and was heavily reliant on her family and local drivers for transportation.
Sreymom required family members to lift her onto a motorbike-taxi and drive her to work (where she needed a second wheelchair). This cost more than US$30 per month, compared to an average monthly transport cost of US$10.75.
Due to a lack of accessible transportation in rural areas, Sreymom could not attend cultural events at the Pagoda or go shopping at the local markets.
Sreymom worked with Light For The World to design the first prototype of the Accessible Moto. Sreymom has been using this for almost two years now and it has changed her life.
Sreymom has transitioned from relying on her family for transport to being the most popular driver in the village, helping people collect items from the markets, taking children to school and cruising around Pursat Province.
The Accessible Moto has enabled Sreymom a freedom that she has not previously had. She now also plays a role in the cultural life of her community, such as attending the religious pagoda for ceremonies and contributing to clean the pagoda afterwards.
In Cambodia, approximately 140,000 individuals over the age of 15 have a moderate-to-severe walking impairment. In the provinces in the vicinity of this project (Pursat, Battambang, Takeo and Kampong Speu) there are approximately 22,800 individuals with a severe walking impairment. This represents a large unmet need in Cambodian society. The Accessible Moto project is in line with the Cambodian Government’s commitment to disability inclusion, as articulated through the National Disability Strategic Plan II (NDSP).
EWB is now working to refine the cost, weight, safety aspects, usability and aesthetic of the Accessible Moto, and exploring how this concept can be developed into something that can be scalable and have impact for thousands of wheelchair users across Cambodia and south-east Asia.