Where Tractors Don’t Work, An Ox is a Beautiful Animal

By Dr. Melesse Temesgen

It might seem a little strange in a world of gigantic John Deere and Caterpillar tractors, but in my world, which is Ethiopia, I am partial to a big, strong animal, the ox. The fact is tractors are rather impractical in much of Ethiopia due to bogging down in the wet soil, rugged topography, high altitudes, poor infrastructures, etc. Hence, the ox is the go-to animal doing the bulk of heavy farm work.

The question I faced as an agricultural engineer, as a professor, and as a student was how to make farming more efficient and to grow crops marshaling technology while also saving precious water. This is why I came up with the Aybar BBM which stands for Broad-Based Furrow Maker. It’s essentially a uniquely designed plow for farmers in Ethiopia and countries who cultivate waterlogged black soils. 

In the process—and I had to go back to the drawing board on several occasions to perfect the farm implement—I also became an entrepreneur. It hasn’t made me wealthy, but it’s helped many farmers. We also have a version of the BBM for tractors, but since not many farmers use tractors in Ethiopia and the market is small, we focus mainly on our oxen-pulled plow, a decidedly low-tech piece of equipment. But, it does the job. It can easily drain excess water from waterlogged fields. There is also a newer, less expensive version of the BBM.

In Ethiopia, much of the farmland is finely textured and exhibits poor drainage. Too much water suffocates the crop, leading to poorer yields or even crop failure. The BBM is the only known effective device capable of creating drainage furrows for excess water while building a broad bed for planting.  

Farmers have an Ethiopian nickname for the plow. It translates into “where have you been” these many years. 

Up to five million hectares of land in Ethiopia are not available for farming because of the excess water without the BBM, which has sold more than 100,000 units. The BBM allows farmers to reclaim this abandoned land, hence improving food production. While the equipment sells for only $16 per unit, the company’s profit is only $2 once production cost and taxes are included. The light version will have a better profit margin at $12 per unit. Actually, the Aybar BBM is rather simple, stemming from a 2,000-year-old technology. I was teaching in the university when I had this lightning bolt that the plow I dreamed about could be a boon to Ethiopian farmers. 

I quit my job at the university and went about marketing and selling the BBM full-time. At the time, people thought I was crazy to leave the comfort of a steady job. However, I wanted to make my mark in my country. The Ethiopian highlands have about 7.5 million hectares of black soils with poor drainage as a result of which only about 25 percent is used. Hence, we had a ready market for my invention. 

Though my Aybar Engineering company has been manufacturing the BBM for a little over three years, I have been inventing farm implements and working in this sector for the last 34 years. Farmers found my plow superior to previous versions and the Aybar BBM has enabled them to farm more efficiently, raising crop yields per hectare from 1.5 tons to 3.5 tons per hectare.” Sales of the BBM have been boosted through stories being broadcast on Ethiopian television and radio stations. My plow was selected as the best innovation in agriculture by the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology and the African Innovation Prize. The BBM has an added use in irrigation. Not only does Aybar BBM prevent excess water from harming crops, but storing that excess water can make it available for later use. 

This sophisticated plow has also made it possible to plant the main crop, wheat, earlier. This has allowed double cropping, thus giving extra yields. It’s not uncommon for some farmers to store the excess water and use it later for animal drinking water and vegetable production. This way, farmers go from low yield, single crop per year to triple cropping.  The Aybar ABB is a bargain for the farmer. But they often don’t realize this. They haven’t done the calculations. It’s a one-time purchase and can be used for many years.

Farmers have an Ethiopian nickname for the plow. It translates into “where have you been” these many years. 


USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.