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Exploring the potential of 3D Printing for agriculture

ICT4Ag Outlook Expert Meeting, 9-11 October 2017, Rhenen, Netherlands

November 2, 2017

A recent CTA ICT4Ag Outlook workshop examined the potential of 3D printing, blockchain and finance opportunities for ICT4Ag businesses in ACP countries. 3D printing has emerged in recent years with exciting potential. Recommendations for further investment and support on this new technology were discussed.

Many digital technology innovations such as 3D printing are increasingly improving the ‘ease of doing business’ in the agricultural sector. This emerging technology in particular also has the potential to stimulate youth entrepreneurship through the development of services to support agricultural transformation. Nevertheless, though 3D printing is seen to have exciting potential, there are challenges in understanding it, and in uptake, particularly in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions.

3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, is a technological process in which physical items are produced in layers to form a three dimensional object from a digital model. The advent of this technology was in the mid-80s and has since spread to sectors such as manufacturing and medicine.  3D printing, whilst still new in developing countries, has entered the innovation space through the production of objects in many fablabs, which are digital fabrication laboratories set up to inspire entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into new products.  An example of one such fablab interested in 3DPrinting for the agrifood sector is Togo-based Woelab, which was one of the many attendees of the Expert Meeting.

Potential launch of research-development and innovation schemes

The ICT4Ag Outlook participants considered 3D printing in light of 3D food printing and 3D printing of agricultural tools. Although 3D food printing could be relevant to ACP countries for making food products more nutritious and for food design in restaurants, participants did not consider it a pressing need. However, it was seen as a potential channel for further research and a potential area for innovative entrepreneurs and high-end restaurants.

Discussions on 3D printing of agricultural tools pointed to significant impact for the acceleration of design, prototyping and possible production in developing countries. The 3D4AgDev project was presented in which prototypes for labour-saving tools were developed in collaboration with farmers and local artisans. This project has been implemented in Malawi by a research institute from the University of Ireland and has already yielded some benefits to farmers. Proximity Design based in Myanmar presented another initiative which demonstrated the production of effective prototypes of agricultural tools and parts. One example was the production of a 3DPrinted sprinkling system which has saved time for farmers and provided them with other benefits. Participants recommended that developing countries launch research-development and innovation schemes in order to develop capacity in 3D Printing and target the production of agricultural tools particularly. In fact, 3DPrinting technology has important potential in all other manufacturing sectors and will eventually have a significant impact on the economy and society.

About the CTA ICT4Ag Outlook workshop: