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Can Open Source Hardware Feed the World?

Soulskill posted about 3 years ago | from the i-bet-it'd-feed-unicron dept.

Open Source 231

jfruhlinger writes "When it comes to food scarcity in the developing world, one of the major problems is production capacity: land that could be arable using modern techniques goes underutilized because locals don't have the ability to build or buy equipment. A group calling itself Open Source Ecology is trying to solve that problem. They've developed a set of open source hardware specs for 50 different industrial machines, which they're calling the Global Village Construction Set."

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231 comments

Well . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857140)

I sure hope the first machine is the one that makes the rest of the machines in the set!

Stabilize governments first (4, Insightful)

Duradin (1261418) | about 3 years ago | (#35857160)

Worry about stabilizing the regional governments first and then worry about upgrading them to first world farming techniques.

Keeping those who know how to farm alive and on the land they know how to farm will be necessary to make new equipment have any lasting effect.

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 3 years ago | (#35857192)

so your starting the movement to developed a set of open source hardware specs for 50 different revolutionary war machines?

Re:Stabilize governments first (4, Insightful)

Duradin (1261418) | about 3 years ago | (#35857296)

"Modern" farming techniques requires infrastructure. If the developing area isn't stable, the infrastructure to support the "modern" techniques won't be there or won't last so the area will still be dependent on outside aid to solve their food scarcity.

Seed suited to their area (ie, local) and conditions (drought,heat,pest,blight, etc. tolerant) would be a better boon than machines they can't support for seed that isn't suited for their area.

Re:Stabilize governments first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857644)

Seed suited to the area and conditions is a far more clever (and desirable) solution that so-called modern first-world agriculture.

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 3 years ago | (#35858650)

Some local islands of stability can produce and repair machinery. The solutions can go together. Basic and advanced metalworking is critical to building even "semi-modern" farm equipment like all the horse/ox/donkey-drawn gear used in the US not so long ago.

Equipment to PRODUCE calcium carbide should be added, because its THE useful portable heating and cutting fuel that kickstarted the modern industrial age and allowed the move from forge welding and riveting to gas welding and brazing. Acetylene gas generators to produce acetylene from carbide are already common in developing nations

John Deere T-800 (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 3 years ago | (#35858208)

I'm totally on board with the idea of kick starting an open source project to build military robots to prevent warlords from using hunger as a weapon. Hunger isn't (in most cases) an agricultural problem, it's a social & political problem.

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 3 years ago | (#35858376)

The open-source hardware for this already exists and you only need one model, look up "AK-47."

Re:Stabilize governments first (4, Interesting)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | about 3 years ago | (#35857244)

I would think giving people the help to be self-sustaining would be the first step in stabalizing the government. It certainly seems like the more corrupt regimes are allowed to flourish because they control what few resources the country has. Take away that control with self-sufficiency and you have a better chance to get rid of the corrupt regimes. It's still going to be hard, but I think the bottom-up changes fare better than the top-down. Especially if the only effective way for a top-down change comes from outside a country's borders.

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

nschubach (922175) | about 3 years ago | (#35858368)

How would you manage to do that if the corrupt regime ran around burning all the fields in order to maintain their control of the food supply?

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

icebike (68054) | about 3 years ago | (#35858404)

Where does that happen?

After all, the regime has to eat too.

Re:Stabilize governments first (2)

b0bby (201198) | about 3 years ago | (#35858484)

Zimbabwe is pretty close to that. The regime is eating, the rest of the people are too busy trying to stay alive to fight it. And this is a country that used to export food surpluses.

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 3 years ago | (#35858494)

The regime can import food.
Not quite burning fields but almost as bad is what Zimbabwe did. Giving land to the poor landless folks is a noble idea, but it would have been much better to teach them to farm first. Also like when the USA takes land via imminent domain, you should still pay the landowner for it.

Education is the key (1)

mangu (126918) | about 3 years ago | (#35858378)

I would think giving people the help to be self-sustaining would be the first step in stabilizing the government

That's correct, but the resource most sorely needed by the poor all over the world is education. The only way to make a democratic regime work is by giving the people enough education to see through demagoguery. Otherwise, votes are too cheap, a new t-shirt or baseball cap is enough to buy a vote in many poor regions.

Re:Stabilize governments first (2, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | about 3 years ago | (#35857604)

Actually, when you dig into it, the problem isn't stable governments or the lack of machinery. The major problem is lack of food storage technology, making seed crops the only thing that can be stored for more than a few weeks.

Food storage (of grain) pre-dates farming [msn.com] . But where is is dry enough to store large quantities of grain without some technology and knowledge, its too dry to grow such quantities. If you don't have river bottoms near much dryer areas (such as in the middle east) you need grain elevators to keep dry crops.

You need refrigeration for many crops, and pest control for all crops.

Once you teach several successive generations that going to the market to buy something wrapped in cellophane is the way food is obtained, the ability to preserve bulk harvests for months or years is quickly lost in the population.

If harvests could be reliably preserved, you would be able to feed the same population with half the acreage. Increasing production is the sloppy way to solve this problem and actually breeds more pests than people. This has been recognized in poorer countries in Africa [google.com] for some time now.

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

Princeofcups (150855) | about 3 years ago | (#35858052)

Worry about stabilizing the regional governments first and then worry about upgrading them to first world farming techniques.

Keeping those who know how to farm alive and on the land they know how to farm will be necessary to make new equipment have any lasting effect.

And first world lower birth rates. Many refuse to admit it, but births will always stay ahead of available food until any culture adopts modern birth control.

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 3 years ago | (#35858318)

There are at least 2 major problems with your argument:
1. A lot of Third World nations have actually been showing signs of improved government stability and democracy. It's still the Third World, there are still problems, but it's gotten better than it once was.

2. A lack of food is a quick way to create political unrest. Cases in point: Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Hungry people will do what it takes to get food and are generally willing to risk life and limb to get it, because it's preferably to starving to death.

Re:Stabilize governments first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35858464)

Food comes before anything else, which includes fixing their governments. One problem right now in Libya is that the rebels, and civilians around the rebels, are suffering from food shortages. If a country is struggling against starvation to begin with then there is little hope of overcoming a corrupt regime.

Re:Stabilize governments first (1)

asukasoryu (1804858) | about 3 years ago | (#35858624)

Worry about stabilizing the regional governments first and then worry about upgrading them to first world farming techniques.

Why not do both in parallel so that when the former is accomplished, the latter is ready to deploy?

Can Open Source Hardware Feed the World? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857176)

No.

Re:Can Open Source Hardware Feed the World? (1)

noobermin (1950642) | about 3 years ago | (#35857248)

Yes, reliable companies like Sony produce better goods that are along the path to feeding the world, or at least facilitating that work. Open source ideas have no place in this.

Re:Can Open Source Hardware Feed the World? (0)

smelch (1988698) | about 3 years ago | (#35857290)

Hey, proprietary goods fed your fat ass, didn't they?

Re:Can Open Source Hardware Feed the World? (2)

noobermin (1950642) | about 3 years ago | (#35857352)

Yes. Look up Monsanto and the good they've done for American society.

And no, I don't eat at fast food restaurants, you insensitive clod!

whispered nature documentary voice (1)

tripleevenfall (1990004) | about 3 years ago | (#35857522)

Here we see snooty slashdotter savaging a newer poster while gorging itself on open source pudding and koolaide. Incredible. You almost believe watching this drama of nature that he really is better than everyone and his ubuntu cd will end world hunger. Such fanciful creatures.

Re:Can Open Source Hardware Feed the World? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857636)

We already produce more than enough food to feed everyone. There are several problems with how distribution is handled in that it rarely gets to those that need it. That and greed which causes us to destroy food rather than give it out. Add gas speculation which drives the cost of food up even further.

Monsanto and ADM are part of the problem. When mandated by the IMF they make countries worse off than before. How? When you must buy closed source seed annually instead of saving and reusing open source seed.

We also have the nasty habit of growing things that are not suited for either the environment or the climate. There are plenty of old farming methods that are workable without advanced technology that can and still work today, like crop rotation and tiering. But we burn out the land fast just to make a quick buck.

Controlled remotely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857182)

Worth note, Sid Meyer's CIV Reality was announced this week...

Re:Controlled remotely (2)

smelch (1988698) | about 3 years ago | (#35857318)

Its spelled Cid Meier.

Re:Controlled remotely (1)

macraig (621737) | about 3 years ago | (#35858350)

Well you got the LAST name spelled correctly, at least. If we morphed you and the GP commenter together we might get a critter who can actually spell consistently!

Re:Controlled remotely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35858428)

Maybe he needs to change his name so it makes sense.

It's not the open-source nature that's significant (2)

dingo_kinznerhook (1544443) | about 3 years ago | (#35857194)

What the summary doesn't state is that the tools are 'geared to work together to sustain a village of people anywhere in the world, using locally attainable resources and tools.' This does beg the question of who's going to manufacture the first set of these tools, but the fact that the tools are going to be sustainable is more important than the fact that they're open-source.

Locally attainable? Chips? (1)

mangu (126918) | about 3 years ago | (#35857520)

the tools are 'geared to work together to sustain a village of people anywhere in the world, using locally attainable resources and tools.'

Since several of those tools are computer-controlled, I'd like to know where are the plans for a locally attainable chip fabrication facility.

Re:Locally attainable? Chips? (1)

grumbel (592662) | about 3 years ago | (#35858390)

Yep, my thoughts exactly, when I saw the summary I thought about simple things, like a generator, a lamp, a stove, maybe a lathe and similar tools, but this goes into building a full blown modern industrial nation, they even include stuff like a 3D printer and scanner. Maybe I am a little pessimistic, but I don't quite see how they could jump start something aimed that high with so many pre-requirements.

Re:Locally attainable? Chips? (1)

GordonCopestake (941689) | about 3 years ago | (#35858586)

Perhaps if you were starting on Mars you would need a chip fab, but these things can be run off tech the first world throws in the landfill.

Re:Begging the question - get it right! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35858606)

http://begthequestion.info/

Missed an opportunity... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857224)

"Garden of Eden Creation Kit" has such a nice ring to it.

Re:Missed an opportunity... (1)

badran (973386) | about 3 years ago | (#35857302)

G.E.C.K.

Re:Missed an opportunity... (1)

LordStormes (1749242) | about 3 years ago | (#35857788)

Is there then a GECKO department in charge of GECK Operations?

Re:Missed an opportunity... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857912)

Create a Garden of Eden and save money on car insurance. Brilliant!

Re:Missed an opportunity... (1)

LordStormes (1749242) | about 3 years ago | (#35858252)

Can we parachute that damn Brit lizard in to assemble the machines? He can take the AFLAC duck and the Burger King with him.

Re:Missed an opportunity... (3, Funny)

chill (34294) | about 3 years ago | (#35857918)

No,

Garden of Eden Creation Kit - Open Source

G.E.C.K.O.S.

See if you can get the Geico critter as a spokes-lizard.

Grid-Beam (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 3 years ago | (#35857232)

I really like Grid-Beam [gridbeamers.com] for this sort of building. Square metal tubing is not expensive if you buy it undrilled. It's incredibly pricey with the holes in it. I've been thinking about how to build an automated rig to drill the tubing. It would use up drills and cutting fluid, but maybe it would be possible to drive the price down.

Why drill all those holes? (1)

mangu (126918) | about 3 years ago | (#35857432)

Square metal tubing is not expensive if you buy it undrilled. It's incredibly pricey with the holes in it. I've been thinking about how to build an automated rig to drill the tubing

Why drill holes you don't need? If you use steel tubing, you don't need any holes, welding it is quicker and cheaper.

Aluminum is much more expensive than steel, and welding it is more expensive as well, because you need inert gas, so unless you need a very lightweight assembly you should go for welded steel tubing.

Re:Why drill all those holes? (1)

trebach (2044090) | about 3 years ago | (#35857676)

Welding joints are harder to repair.

Re:Why drill all those holes? (1)

vlm (69642) | about 3 years ago | (#35857926)

Welding joints are harder to repair.

And harder to reuse the parts in another project once you're permanently done with the gadget.

Cutting steel to a smooth burr free perfectly square exact dimension is a lot harder and/or more expensive than drilling a buncha holes.

Re:Why drill all those holes? (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 3 years ago | (#35857880)

Welding is great for production work off of an assembly line. Grid-Beam is for things you might eventually replace. The welded frames can't be reused, they are mostly recycled at a high energy cost into lower-grade metal for rebar, etc. The grid-beam frames can be dismantled and turned into other working equipment.

Re:Why drill all those holes? (1)

mangu (126918) | about 3 years ago | (#35858286)

Welded tubes can be recycled too, only they become slightly shorter at each reuse. All you need to do is cut away the welded joints.

For ultimate low-price, use rebar. It will be heavier than tubes for a given strength, but you can even start with recycled rebar from demolitions. Cheap and environment friendly at the same time.

Re:Grid-Beam (1)

vlm (69642) | about 3 years ago | (#35857718)

I've been thinking about how to build an automated rig to drill the tubing. It would use up drills and cutting fluid, but maybe it would be possible to drive the price down.

The thing to google for is "CNC milling machine". I have a (small) one in my basement. Its a load of fun and can do a whole heck of a lot more than drilling holes.

Also high quality steel tools in aluminum basically never wear out. Maybe in a high speed production setting... And cutting fluid is usually captured in a sump, filtered, and reused. Its an unholy mess so I don't use cutting fluid. Doesn't matter if you work slowly, and seeing as its automated and I have no capital loan to pay off...

You'll find dimensional uniformity is going to be the challenge. Grab four random pieces of 80/20 or whatever, will any random integer number of holes have equal spacing on all four bars? Dimensional uniformity, and elegant surface finish for the artsy architecture crowd, is where all the money goes.

80/20 is a commercial version of your grid beamer concept, the website is hilarious, guys making $20 walmart bookshelves using $250 of 80/20 parts...

Re:Grid-Beam (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 3 years ago | (#35858080)

CNC would be overkill for this project. What I need is something that takes the end of a 1.5x1.5 tube, drills a hole in all four sides .75 inches from the end, and then steps the tube forward 1.5 inches, registering the newly-drilled holes in steel pins to enforce the uniformity of the next set of holes. Step forward another 1.5 inches and repeat the process until there is less than .75 inches of tubing left.

I like my 80/20 catalog, but yes, the demo projects are absurd, and the costs out of the hobbyist range.

Simple answer? No. (4, Interesting)

Mashiki (184564) | about 3 years ago | (#35857256)

I'd say, ask Norman Bourlag [wikipedia.org] how it could be done, but he's dead unfortunately. But he had a good plan, and several other good plans. I'm sure crazy greenies and environmentalists will come out whining now, but 'green farming' will never produce enough food. And unless you're going to shovel off 2/3's of the population to die. His ideas will be the future of farming.

Re:Simple answer? No. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857568)

**but 'green farming' will never produce enough food. And unless you're going to shovel off 2/3's of the population to die**

What makes you say that? Especially in countries which can afford far more labor intensive farming.

As many studies point out, organic farming can get very high yields, but it also maintains very high yields over the long run.
http://www.grist.org/article/organic-farming-cant-feed-the-world-a-myth-debunked [grist.org]

Global Ecological Construction Kit (1)

Tackhead (54550) | about 3 years ago | (#35857344)

GVCS? Sounds like a planetwide distributed version control system. Ah, open source product naming.

Might I suggest it be renamed the GECK [wikia.com] ? It's just in time for Fallout 5:Fukushima. This trailer [youtube.com] shows off great graphics, a easily-monitored PIPboy, friendly canine companions, and the Brahmin are so mutated that they only have one head!

Are headlines that ask questions ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857394)

... Indicative of a completely worthless waste of page space or bandwidth?

Yes.

NOT OPEN SOURCE!!! (1, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | about 3 years ago | (#35857400)

This isn't Open Source but Open Specification. Open Source Hardware would be giving the actually hardware to them and making sure that the hardware is easily accessible so it could be reversed engineered Open Specification is more powerful as it give them the instructions to make such an item, however it fails to actually give them a working original.

Closed Source is giving a Fish to a man.
Open Source is giving a Fish and a Pole, with the hope that he will know how to use it.
Open Specification is showing how to make a pole and how to use it to collect fish.

Re:NOT OPEN SOURCE!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857610)

The trouble is that these are not fishing poles, they are complex industrial machines that they can not build themselves. I do not care how good a farmer or how motivated your community is, with out the capacity to build complex industrial machines the design means nothing. Mass production of food requires machines on a mass scale. Until these countries are stable and able to work as part of the world community, I fear failure is the likely outcome. We have tried wealth redistribution, Giving away Trillions of dollars, but that has not worked either.

Re:NOT OPEN SOURCE!!! (1)

icebike (68054) | about 3 years ago | (#35857826)

Midwestern farmers in the late 1800s in North America couldn't build farm machinery either.

But they could maintain it. The local blacksmith could repair just about anything, and even when early tractors arrived allowing you plow huge acreages, they were simple machines, and could be maintained in the field (there being no other choice). All of these machines have expired patents. The plans are probably available in John Deere's archives.

But the other part of the story you've misread, is that we are talking about Village Scale production of food. Not Mass Scale. 10 farmers and a guy who read, and another who can wield a wrench and swing a hammer can keep ancient tractors, plows, primitive seed drills, and harvesters running for a long long time with a minimal amount of tools.

Gifting the machines is what this project aims to do. The point is to not give fuel injected, computer controlled devices. Give them something they can maintain locally.

Yes open source. (2)

oGMo (379) | about 3 years ago | (#35857640)

Open specification is giving the requirements, but not necessarily a detailed plan, for a pole. (And then probably charging licensing fees when someone makes a pole using the spec; "open" is not "free".)

"Open Source" is giving someone the plans for a pole in detail, and allowing them to do whatever they want with the plans, including modification or redistribution (perhaps we could better label this "Free Hardware").

Remember, just because you get can get binaries and happen to have a compiler doesn't mean that "open source" software is anything but "detailed plans" that have to be built in order to actually do anything.

Re:NOT OPEN SOURCE!!! (4, Interesting)

Crudely_Indecent (739699) | about 3 years ago | (#35857994)

Apache Web Server is open source, yet the Apache group doesn't give you a working server, nor do they give you the power to turn the server on. They give you source code and instructions to achieve a working server. You must provide the hardware, power and the time.

Your comparison to the fishing proverb isn't appropriate.

Closed source is giving a man a fish (I agree)
Open source is teaching a man to fish (which I believe would encompass teaching the necessary pole technology)

Source is knowledge, not product.

It's poverty, not scarcity (2, Interesting)

swbozo (604409) | about 3 years ago | (#35857498)

Primitive agriculture WORSENS poverty (1, Informative)

mangu (126918) | about 3 years ago | (#35857796)

Your links are typical "green/leftist" propaganda.

For instance, one of the dogmas there says that "70 million Brazilians cannot afford enough to eat".

Propagating that bullshit was one of the reasons Lula [wikipedia.org] was elected president in 2002. One of his campaign promises was his "Zero Hunger" program, to eradicate hunger. Much to his embarrassment after he was elected, the studies he ordered from a federal agency on how to conduct this program was that the poorest in Brazil did NOT suffer from hunger. What they found was that 30% of the Brazilian poorest actually suffered from OBESITY...

Re:Primitive agriculture WORSENS poverty (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35858528)

Give someone everything they need to live, and they won't do anything but sit around and get fat. I know I would.

Re:Primitive agriculture WORSENS poverty (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35858618)

Obesity is usually caused by eating high carb diets.

Most of the things that are 'high carb' are seriously cheap. Good nutrition and full stomach are not necessarily the same thing. Once governments realize this there will be a change.

Just goto your local supermarket. I would be willing to bet cash that if you buy a set of meals that would feed yourself for a week for 15 bucks it would be high carb. The downside is a huge demand for 'cheap' foods. The cheap ones are the ones we make in mass quantities already. Those are high carb. So people want cheap foods they buy them. So there is demand for the already existing cheap foods. No change in the market.

Notice I didnt say no carb either. You have to have them. Just not as much as most people eat for the amount of work the do. It is seriously hard to keep the balance right.

That and most things that have low carb are not good for you long term or taste like twigs.

Re:It's poverty, not scarcity (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 3 years ago | (#35857810)

Doesn't change the fact that if you give them the ability to grow enough food for themselves (and their village, city or region) then they will have enough to eat. It would almost certainly be easier to solve the problem by redistributing where the food that is currently grown ends up, but only if you can convince everyone to play well together, and decades of effort by tens of thousands of people hasn't been enough to make that happen. So why not try something else? Give them the tools to make their lives better on their own terms, rather than just trying to hand them the solution to their problems.

I can't help but thinking that this equipment would just be stolen by the guys with guns though, exactly the same way so much foreign aid is stolen out of the hands of those that need it most. People say stabilize the countries before you worry about feeding everyone, but I suspect reality would make it at least as hard to do things in that order as it is to do it in the other. Unstable governments cause starving populations, but starving populations also cause unstable governments; trying to solve either problem in isolation from the other one is just going to put fuel on the fire.

Re:It's poverty, not scarcity (1)

inputdev (1252080) | about 3 years ago | (#35858162)

It seems to me that the project goals address poverty related issues even more directly than scarcity. They are not promoting higher yields through more "industrial agriculture", they are promoting affordable tools that enable decentralized production with local resources. from the first myth of your first link:

MYTH 1: Industrial agriculture and free trade will feed the world. TRUTH: World hunger is not created by lack of food but by poverty and landlessness which deny people access to food. Industrial agriculture—i.e., large-scale, corporate-run, export-oriented monoculture farming—and free trade agreements actually increase hunger by raising the cost of farming, forcing millions of farmers off the land, and by growing primarily high-profit export and luxury crops rather than food for local people to eat....

the "large-scale, corporate-run, export-oriented monoculture farming" is exactly what might possibly be avoided if individuals have access to the means of production.

They've got some politics going on too... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857506)

From their wiki: "The State promotes well-paid incompetence, largely through specialization, such that subjects produce sufficient surplus to pay for their own oppression. "

How a real FOSS 3d CAD system. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 3 years ago | (#35857560)

All those CNC machines and such are fine but there still isn't a good 3D FOSS cad system yet. Nothing that can Rival Solidworks, ProE, or AutoCad. Blender sure doesn't cut it. The closest is BRL CAD is still ins't in the same class as Solidworks. I would be happy with one that was as good as TurboCAD 3D.
Getting the design tools into peoples hands would be a big help IMHO and it is software for goodness sakes.
BTW I have used Solidworks and it is very very good and I have tried Blender and BRL.

Need a stable government first (1)

svendsen (1029716) | about 3 years ago | (#35857570)

No stable government...no stable food production. While this does not apply to all developing nations it is a huge issue in many African countries dealing with unrest.

Read the fine : Fuel and electricty not included. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35857590)

A device that "extracts aluminum from clay" ... "electrolyzing the resulting compound to form pure aluminum" ... that takes a huge amount of electricity to do. Where is the 'leccy coming from? That wimpy wind turbine?

Look at the others ... where is the fuel to run the trucks and steam turbines and backhoes going to come from?

You can do far more good with lower tech at less cost - fuel efficient stoves, growing legumes, contour plowing.

Missing the cause of poverty completely (3, Insightful)

TheSync (5291) | about 3 years ago | (#35857630)

"In a visit to Ethiopia in 2009, I talked to more than one citizen there who said that the arability of the land wasn't so much the problem as not having the machines to farm the land productively. "

This is completely ignorant. Read here [guardian.co.uk] :

"In the late 1970s Ethiopia's communist regime nationalised all land, and private ownership remains outlawed. The millions of small-scale farmers work under licence from the state, and most plots are one hectare or less, which has hampered efforts to improve food security."

Now the Ethiopian government is leasing out large scale plots of land to foreign farm companies, which will certainly produce some work for Ethiopians, but your typical Ethiopian still has no ownership of the land and thus no ability to use that capital to get loans for farm equipment, fertilizer, and seed.

As Hernando DeSoto pointed out in "The Mystery of Capital" [amazon.com] , every developed nation in the world at one time went through the transformation from predominantly informal, extralegal land ownership to a formal, unified legal property system that allowed people to leverage property into wealth. This has not been done in countries such as Ethiopia (Egypt is another country with little rural private land ownership).

Lack of private property rights and over-regulation and government ownership of business causes poverty. Enhancing private property rights and freedom to participate in commerce cause wealth. Even the Chinese have realized this (belatedly, after starving tens of millions of people to death with collective farming during the Great Leap Forward).

Poor people around the world are not too stupid, too lazy, or too ignorant to be entrepreneurs and productive farmers. They are simply kept from becoming rich by government. They can solve their own problems if they are allowed to.

Re:Missing the cause of poverty completely (4, Insightful)

Antisyzygy (1495469) | about 3 years ago | (#35857742)

Private property rights and limited taxes on the rich's income sources also cause poverty because the end results is 1 percent of the people owning everything. Then us peons have to lease it or borrow it and obey their rules on its use. Its no different than leasing from the government, and frankly I think its worse. It hasn't totally happened here yet but its coming if we don't do something about it. True communism would work out just fine if people weren't people, i.e. selfish, and corrupt. Actually, capitalism would work out just fine if the same wasn't true.

Re:Missing the cause of poverty completely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35858022)

Take a look at Zimbabwe as a counterpoint to your assumption. In the 70's, land was owned by less than 1% of the population there until Mugabe started his regime, yet they had no trouble producing food; in fact, food was their largest export. Fast-forward 30 years, a decade after Mugabe forced the redistribution of land in a misguided attempt to even things out. Now the humanitarian situation is far worse and the country must import food to feed its population but still falls short.

That 1% of the population really was bleeding the population dry. Shame on them for not being more fair.

Re:Missing the cause of poverty completely (1)

TheSync (5291) | about 3 years ago | (#35858400)

Take a look at Zimbabwe as a counterpoint to your assumption. In the 70's, land was owned by less than 1% of the population there until Mugabe started his regime, yet they had no trouble producing food

It should be pointed out that even then, Rhodesia was not a shining star of economic freedom and property rights. The acquisition of land from blacks by whites was not done as legal transactions, but often by direct or indirect force, and there were plenty of legal and extralegal restrictions on black land ownership and participation in the economy.

The "land reform" in Zimbabwe is only one challenge to the economy. It also has seen massive hyperinflation, high tax rates (including income taxes that went as high at 47%, now down to a max of 35%), opaque and burdensome regulations on businesses, significant labor regulation that pushes most work into the inefficient informal sector, regulations that limit foreign investment in companies, and high corruption.

Re:Missing the cause of poverty completely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35858130)

"Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff." - Frank Zappa

Re:Missing the cause of poverty completely (1)

Toze (1668155) | about 3 years ago | (#35858160)

Thank you for that last sentence. I agree with your entire post, but too many people leave off the last bit when complaining about the problems with corporatism.

Re:Missing the cause of poverty completely (2)

TheSync (5291) | about 3 years ago | (#35858212)

"Private property rights and limited taxes on the rich's income sources also cause poverty because the end results is 1 percent of the people owning everything."

Note I didn't say anything about taxes.

But you should know that Ethiopia has above-average tax rates. The top income and corporate tax rates are 35 percent. Unincorporated businesses are taxed at a rate of 30 percent. Other taxes include a value-added tax (VAT) and a capital gains tax.

But Ethiopia is too poor to have these tax rates - they (along with labor regulations) push much of the economy into the black market. The large informal sector does not pay taxes. In the most recent year, overall tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was only 9.9 percent despite the high legal tax rates.

Regarding property rights, the US has strong private property rights. "Property rights are guaranteed" in the USA as specified in the Economic Freedom of the World Index [heritage.org] . The effect: 67% of all occupied housing units are occupied by the unit's owner (~60 million homeowners).

Now I can point you to several countries where the government (1% of the people or less) owns "everything", such as pre-1980 China, Cuba until relatively recently, the USSR, North Korea. And of course, in Ethiopia, the government still owns most of the land.

Re:Missing the cause of poverty completely (1)

Antisyzygy (1495469) | about 3 years ago | (#35858402)

Yeah. Like I said, we aren't there yet. Don't get me wrong, I like having the opportunity to get rich that capitalism gives us, but I don't like the fact that our version of it makes it so only the lucky and rich can get rich if you know what I mean. Also, I was including money as a form of property.

Re:Missing the cause of poverty completely (1)

Chemisor (97276) | about 3 years ago | (#35858264)

You're missing it too. Property rights aren't going to help them when there's not enough land to own for everybody. The average family in Ethiopia has 5.6 children [blogspot.com] the highest in the world. You say they aren't stupid, but it takes some serious ignorance to not realize that if you can barely afford to feed yourself, you can't afford 6 children. Heck, I live in a reasonably prosperous US state and know I can't afford 6 children! And then there are the idiots who say the poor there "can't afford" to have smaller families, rationalizing the idea by being bad at math.

In the last 70 years, Ethiopia's population has increased fivefold, and is expected to double again in the next 30. You can send them all the food in the world, give them all the advanced machinery and farming technology, and even provide them with a few trillion dollars of foreign aid; but no matter what you do, they will outbreed all your efforts. Until they learn to not breed like rabbits, they have no one to blame for their poverty but their penises.

Kinda Cool (1)

Antisyzygy (1495469) | about 3 years ago | (#35857662)

This sort of idea actually could be applied to space colonization. Make simply constructed machines that bootstrap the construction of more complex machines that can be built using stuff on the planet you are targeting.

Do they really need to open source the plow? (1)

brainzach (2032950) | about 3 years ago | (#35857922)

Most specifications for agricultural equipment are already known to the public. Developing nations don't have strong patent or copyright protections, so if someone wants to copy a machine, they can copy it.

The real challenge is providing the capital and education needed to implement and maintain modern agricultural methods.

The law of diminishing returns (1)

blair1q (305137) | about 3 years ago | (#35857966)

So, let me get this straight.

The people at the top of the income ladder are making an ever-increasing exponent more than the people at the bottom, and the people at the bottom are now trying to do the most basic of self-subsistence activities on land that can't be plowed by two laborers yoked to a ploughshare, and we rely on people who work for free to come to the rescue of humanity?

When a politician fronting for those at the top of the income tells you that you have the individual power to make yourself successful, strap them into the yoke.

Designs need a lot of improvement (1)

Mbala (897414) | about 3 years ago | (#35858000)

I was considering getting myself a LifeTrac, so I looked at the design + videos in more detail. I love the modularity and the fact I can understand every single piece of the tractor and replace it myself (except the engine and the hydraulic parts). At the same time, the design seems to be very beta - the frame seems way heavier than it could be, and the way the screws are used seems wrong - it does not look very strong / durable. The fact that too much weight is on the front part, so hind wheels are raising up in the air, unless you weight them down with used car batteries - that would waste a lot of fuel. I would say that getting an old beat up tractor + maybe another one for spare parts, and learning how to fix it yourself might be the best way. The second best would be if companies stopped cramming AC and GPS navigation and god knows what into skidloaders, and instead optimized their designs for manual serviceability and ensured the equipment lasts a long time. Unfortunately, the manufacturers seem to be interested in exactly the opposite designs.

Neat project --- deliverable homesteading option? (1)

WillAdams (45638) | about 3 years ago | (#35858046)

What could one do to create a small, secure, mass-produced core for a family to live in and w/ which to sustain themselves?

Imagine a portable block filled w/

  - water filtration system
  - sleeping areas for 4 people
  - photovoltaic roof to provide energy to power everything
  - system to capture rainwater from the roof and to store water (of course it arrives fully filled)
  - composting toilet
  - one or more glass walls which function as a greenhouse (and connections to allow such to be expanded)
  - integrated tank for raising freshwater shrimp

How small could such a block be? What would be the lowest price at which it could be delivered on-site? (probably the best technique would be for it to be a metal frame which is then covered w/ locally available materials)

William

NO. (3, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | about 3 years ago | (#35858114)

Right now most countries refuse American Corn and wheat unless it has been ground up int a meal or flour. Why? because Monsanto has polluted our food stream with it's copyrighted and trademarked products so completely that other countries do not want to allow the lawsuit ridden crops to ever be planted in their countries. Monsanto has sued most USA farmers out of existence that dared to plant a non Monsanto crop by claiming IP infringement when a neighbor crop cross pollinates theirs. and IF you dare to own a seed cleaner and keep part of your crop as seed, they will go after you and bankrupt you. Most other countries, including the ones that have a lot of starving people do not want this problem there. Monsanto owns the USA, they do not want them to own them as well so they refuse crops and seed from the USA.

Want to feed the world? fight for the invalidation of all patents on food crops.

Open Source Hardware is "way too expensive" (3, Interesting)

Theovon (109752) | about 3 years ago | (#35858188)

I founded the Open Graphics Project. Our objective was to develop an open source graphics card. At the time, no GPU maker was releasing specs that would allow FOSS developers to write good drivers. This started in 2004, with a lot of attention and excitement. Being the sort to DO, rather than just complain, and also being a graphics chip designer, I decided that the open approach might be the solution. There were multiple slashdot articles, interviews, and a good deal of hardware design and software was developed.

It's now 2011, and you most likely have never heard of the Open Graphics Project. Also, it's 2011, and most other open hardware projects have come and gone or are just limping along.

Why is this? Because nobody wants to provide the one thing that makes or breaks an open hardware project: Money.

Building hardware costs money. Designing it is hard enough, but we got that accomplished. It took until 2009 before the OGP managed to actually build our prototype hardware in quantities that we could lend and sell, and this was because we got donations from the Linux Fund.

Why does no one put up money? Because it's (rightfully so) too much of a risk. If you could predict that one project or another would succeed, you might invest, especially if you knew that you'd get some kind of return on your investment (besides "sponsor"). But you can't make that prediction, and it's foolish for you to throw money at every fly-by-night project that comes along. And thus, open hardware projects die, except those that are backed by someone who already has money. The problem is that most of THOSE people aren't willing to "give away" their designs. Conundrum.

Some friends and I have some solutions we're working on. Watch this space for late Summer 2011. :)

Colonizer Toolkit (1)

macraig (621737) | about 3 years ago | (#35858234)

This GVCS is exactly what a colony ship would want to take along on a one-way trip to a new home away from home (be it Mars or some idyllic exoplanet). There's another partnership opportunity for them....

all that remains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35858354)

is for the village of Aroyo to send the chosen one on a quest to find the GECK ..I mean the GVCS

Which parts in the system are missing? (1)

JumpingBull (551722) | about 3 years ago | (#35858444)

Um, I think we are forgetting something here. Throwing hardware at a problem - without understanding the problem - will not be as effective as hoped. Consider the context first - what is the environment, how much bio-diversity, is there a way to arrange things to increase fertility? Consider Haiti, a small country, where the dictator "Doc Duvalier" cut down all the trees. He didn't have to be worried about snipers in the tree tops; the unintended consequence was the arable land was washed into the ocean, beginning a cycle of poverty that continues to this day. Breaking the cycle of poverty takes insight, and small changes - composting, small bushes and shrubs to act as soil anchors, understanding how to make real wealth, and not something that is a photo op - only to rust unused.

Aeroponics (1)

z3nwizard (1711276) | about 3 years ago | (#35858468)

Would be nice to have a standard design for Aeroponics or similar setup that scales. 6 to 7 times better output then standard gardening.. Maybe something like this design http://viewer.zoho.com/api/urlview.do?url=http://www.synergyii.com/aeroponic/VAP.pdf [zoho.com] Vertical farming also.. This design uses the red & blue led lights but for some reason didn't use aeroponics or hydroponics... just that mud stuff ;) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ct3dK2_ksvk [youtube.com]

Seriously? (1)

cthlptlk (210435) | about 3 years ago | (#35858480)

Does anyone really believe that people are going hungry because of IP restrictions on 3D printers? I have nothing against open source or building cool stuff, but the idea that this stuff is practical for solving problems is just a fig leaf of respectability for people who like to play with very big toys.

Here is a group that is providing IP-free technology that is at the right scale (sub-industrial) and uses the right power source (animals, human muscle) to increase farming productivity where it is needed: http://www.tillersinternational.org/farming/tools.html [tillersinternational.org]

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