Zewdy Gebremedhin (CA), Charles Spillane & Una Murray (IE)

Millions of the world’s smallholder women farmers have limited access to farm energy, mechanisation and the most basic of agricultural and agri-processing tools. With minimal access to alternative energy sources (draught animals or mechanised farm equipment) such smallholder farmers remain largely dependent on human labour for cultivation and agri-processing: a deficit trap that can perpetuate rural poverty.

The National University of Ireland Galway 3D4AgDev programme works in partnership with women smallholder farmers in Malawi to harness the innovation and creativity of rural innovators to co-develop, field test and scale-up new or improved technologies and tools for smallholder farmers.

The 3D4AgDev programme links the potential of user-led innovation with rapid prototyping (via 3D printing, arc welding and metal casting) to enable women smallholder farmers in Africa to design and develop their own labour-saving agricultural tools.

Facilitated by 3D4AgDev, rapid-prototyping of tool designs has been conducted and prototype tools have been tested against existing tools in on-farm trials involving the innovator groups. The most promising of these are now being scaled up for production and dissemination using a social enterprise approach involving the smallholders themselves.


Zewdy Gebremedhin is a 3D4AgDev Research Officer conducting her Ph.D. research on labour-saving technologies for women smallholders. Charles Spillane and Una Murray are engaged in 3D4AgDev research management and supervision. All three are members of the Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) where the 3D4AgDev Programme is located. The 3D4AgDev Programme is a research partnership programme between NUIG and Concern Worldwide, and is hosted at International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Malawi. The programme is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Exploration program, and also the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH.

The Open Ag Lab presents some of the cutting edge research being field tested on farms and is a space for visitors to get their hands dirty through learning.