Donkey ploughs

Innovation doesn't always involve complex inventions

Practical Action works with many communities living in places where the land and climate is unforgiving. Growing food to feed families is becoming increasingly difficult, time-consuming and labour-intensive.

To help overcome this problem Practical Action introduced a light, inexpensive metal plough that is pulled by a donkey. It uses specially-designed soft harnesses to ensure the donkeys can work in comfort.

The results are incredible. Studies have shown that families that have access to a donkey and a plough can increase their harvests by 500%. Now families are making the most of this simple technology.

Practical Action initially introduced the wooden ard plough. This is an assemblage of wooden pieces fitted together, and is lighter than many ploughs, using a single handle passed through a log, which acts as the main body of the plough. Only a small proportion on the plough is made of metal. The plough is made lighter than many ploughs in other part of the world due to the arid conditions and the fact that it is being pulled by one donkey only or sometimes by a camel.

Practical Action’s newer design is based on this traditional design but using an all-metal structure, making the plough lighter. The metal comes from scrap, which is usually obtained from old vehicles.

The local blacksmiths were involved in the design of a donkey-drawn plough, using locally available skills and appropriate materials. The blade, for example, would be made from leaf springs from old suspensions. The steel is useful as it can easily be hardened through quenching to produce a hard-wearing surface.

The donkey plough demonstrates the relationship between the different aspects of Practical Action’s work from the adaptation of a traditional technology to the development of an intermediate technology and brings together farming, metalworking and the production of improved harnesses.

Ploughing improves family prospects in western Sudan

Learning how to use a plough proved a productive, rewarding skill for Kaltoum Mohammed Abdalla.

Ploughing using an improved donkey plough in SudanMarried with four children, and with her husband working away in central Sudan, the 25-year-old relied on farming and labouring on housing projects in Kebkabyia town to support her family.

But the she then received training from Practical Action Sudan in using the plough, and managed to buy one of the implements. Using the plough, her cultivated area of land doubled to 5.4 acres, productivity rose steeply, and she started growing cash crops.

Kaltoum said her family life became more stable and secure. Her husband returned from labouring, started helping with farm activities and became a crop trader between Kebkabyia and other neighbouring communities.

From the sales of products from their land, the couple bought ten goats, three beds, clothes, luggage and a second plough.

They managed to send two of their children to school, paid their annual fees, and also contributed to school construction and teachers' initiatives.

Kaltoum said another great benefit of her husband's help with the farming was that she had time to participate in other activities, including literary classes and village committee meetings.

Just £50 could buy a donkey, helping poor families work towards self-sufficiency. £250 could buy ten ploughs and harnesses, so ten families could vastly increase their yields at harvest.

Please give what you can, in the knowledge that you will be drastically changing at least one family’s future for the better. Not only with increased yield but also increased time to spend with their children and increased funds in order to give their children a good education. The possibilities for a better future are easy to see, so please help.


You can download further information on cultivation from Practical Answers, the technical information service of Practical Action, or you can submit a technical enquiry to the Practical Action staff via the online form.

The Donkey Plough

This Technical Brief covers the construction of the donkey plough, developed for use in Sudan.


The Kebkabiya Plough - Engineering Drawings

The donkey plough is a lightweight plough suitable for conditions in Sudan.


The Kebkabiya Plough

This plough has been used with great success in Kebkabiya, Sudan. Here is a highly visual guide to its use.

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