Portable Agricultural Cableways

Post by Gondola Project

Cable technology is good for a lot of things — there’s sightseeing, transporting minerals, public transit and yes, even relaxing in hot tubs.

But a form of cable application we really haven’t address so far is transporting agricultural products. Believe it or not, many ropeway systems around the world are used to transfer everyday food and plant items such as bananas and roses.

As seen in the video below by Centro Aceros, a Colombian company that builds cableways and produces steel bars, ropeways provides many advantages to farmers such as:

  • high adaptability/flexibility
  • low intrusiveness (minimal environmental impact)
  • ability to cover inaccessible ground (across rivers and streams)
  • low operating/maintenance costs compared to roads
  • low energy consumption
  • avoidance of soil compaction along harvesting lines

The manufacturer claims that systems can carry up to 90 tons of fruits on only 1.5 gallons of fuel! If accurate, that’s the equivalent of transporting 18 elephants with less than two milk jugs of gas. Talk about efficiency! And plus, maintenance is simple, no road construction and paving, just the simple periodic replacement of wheels, springs and oil filters.

The application of cable technology in more farming communities has the potential to make a huge impact.

Dr. Shankar Krishnapillai, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, has spotted a huge potential for increased usage of cableways in small, rural farms in India. The professor has recognized that many small farming operations struggle to hire sufficient manpower, especially during the labor-intensive harvesting season.

Dr. Krishnapillai’s solution is through the creation of a portable cableway. By his estimates, a simple system would still cost $4000 USD and would require four persons to operate. It’s unclear though how much his innovation can transport but ultimately, the main advantage lies in its portability. Since farmers only need the system for 10-15 days a year, the costs to build a cable system can be shared amongst many families.

While I’m not a farmer by any long shot (nor have I grown anything of significance), the concept of building a lightweight and transportable agricultural cableway is quite fascinating. If built, designed and costed properly, maybe one day cable systems can solve these labor and scalability issues in small farms and help bring much needed economic development in the poorest of regions.

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Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. These have been around for a long time. The first chairlift was based on a cable-based conveyor for loading bananas onto ships.
  2. Bananas and chairlifts. A match made in heaven! ;)
  3. This website has opened my eyes to the possibilities of aerial cableways (also known as aerial gondolas). I greatly appreciate the work you guys have done. Normally I am positively impressed with the articles (web postings) I read on this site. Therefore, I thought I'd chime in here to point out one glaring error and one error that is almost glaring- not to remonstrate you for this rare lapse- but instead to help you maintain the standard of excellence you normally achieve. In the article (web posting) you indicated, "The manufacturer claims that systems can carry up to 90 tons of fruits on only 1.5 gallons of fuel!" Your quotation seems to come from roughly this point in the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghl9OV2WmjU#t=226. That statement is likely either a gross oversight or a poor attempt at manipulative marketing. The assertion in the video is like saying, "You can buy gold for one US dollar!" Sure. But how much gold can you buy for one US dollar? Or imagine a car commercial saying, "You can drive this car with just 1/2 a liter of fuel! Again, how far can you drive with that 1/2 liter of fuel? Let us consider two obviously absurd extremes to illustrate this point. In other words, let us exaggerate to make a point (as opposed to exaggerating to be rude or unkind). If the portable agricultural cableway indicated in the video were able to move 90 tons of fruit a *distance* of 1 meter using 1.5 gallons of fuel then the fuel costs would obviously be be extremely expensive. On the other hand, if that *distance* were 10 kilometers instead of 1 meter, the system would obviously be be extremely *in*expensive. That was the obvious glaring gross error I mentioned above. Here is the nearly obvious glaring gross error I mentioned above. A comparison should be made between the cost, say, to move 1 ton of cargo (such as bananas), say, 100 meters using conventional means of transport (which I suppose would likely be trucks or pack animals) to that of a cableway. In other words, is it cheaper to us a cableway per kilometer or to use a truck or a mule. Comparing the the marginal cost of fuel required to transport a given weight of cargo a given distance (for example, the cost to move 1 ton of cargo 100 meters) clearly begs the more important question of comparing total cost of ownership of these various means of transport. For example, if a small grower in the jungles of Colombia can graze mules essentially for free on public lands, has a plantation that mules can easily transverse (let us say relatively flat ground with no insurmountable obstructions (such as impassible ravines), then mules would likely be a cheaper solution for that grower for transporting crops than a temporary aerial tramways. Please don't get me wrong. In many cases I strongly suspect temporary aerial tramways are used efficiently because they are cheaper than trucks or a mules for transporting a harvest. However, I want to ensure that you do not proffer pseudo-science to prove your assumptions. This website seems to have a target audience of buyers who will almost certainly carefully "crunch the numbers" when considering investing in aerial tramways, be they temporary or permanent. Frankly, I suppose temporary aerial tramway are currently used year-round on large banana plantations in countries such as Costa Rica and Panama where I suppose large quantities of fruit are picked on a daily basis. Furthermore, I suspect temporary aerial tramways are either shared by small to medium sized growers of various crops in many countries around the world, either directly (by purchasing or constructing a temporary aerial tramway cooperatively), or indirectly by renting temporary aerial tramways from a third party who owns one or more temporary aerial tramways which he rents out to small and medium sized growers, say for a few weeks during their particular harvest time(s). I intended my criticisms above to be positive and constructive, not destructive and mean-spirited. Please keep up your excellent work in making this site glisten like a gem!
  4. @Helping Out: Thanks for the comment. We're always happen to receive feedback from our readers, especially when it comes down to these types of statistics. I must admit that I too had suspicions about that claim by the manufacturer when I first wrote the post, and imagine that their assertion is more of a marketing statement rather than hard science. However, it does somewhat seem plausible. Of course when choosing to build agricultural cableways, the landowner will likely weigh the costs/benefits of several technologies and methods such as trucks, human labor, pack animals etc and the type of produce they are growing. It would be very interesting to gather energy efficiency and cost stats from various growers to how cableways truly compare with other transport types but suspect that this type of data is hard to come by. My feeling is that in topographically challenged locations, a cableway would prove particularly advantageous.
  5. @Nick Chu I am not sure if you understood the points I made. In a nutshell: the explicit claim in the video I referred to lacks the necessary component (variable) of distance. You seem to be "going with your gut feeling" that portable agricultural gondolas are generally well suited to topography that is normally difficult to traverse with wheeled vehicles. Sure. I agree. But the claim in the video is clearly nonsensical. Frankly, I suspect they might have inadvertently neglected to put in the distance such as 100 meters. After all, the voice over seems to be done by someone with an English accent. Because the company that makes the portable agricultural gondolas is located in Columbia I suppose that they hired someone to do the voice over for them in English. Therefore, something might have been lost in translation and perhaps by communication via phone or email. Be that as it may, you made a mistake by quoting the error in the video that I very carefully indicated and (metaphorically) illustrated. You then compounded your mistake by failing to admit you made a mistake. That second mistake is a blatant violation of reasonable discourse. Therefore, although I enjoy reading this blog, I don't intend to post a comment again because I find it fruitless to engage in unreasonable discourse. Nonetheless, I hope that you farewell.
  6. @ Helping Out: No I completely understand your point. The analysis was admittedly not scientific as you probably already know. There's so many variables at play and due to the nature of a blog, sometimes we make errors and omissions so I do apologize for that. However, my point is that if we gathered more information about the energy efficiency of agricultural ropeways, we can ascertain the validity of the claim. But at this point, while I'm sure the numbers are out there, we haven't found it yet. I will certainly look into this a little more. Hopefully I didn't come off as unreasonable as you may think, cause we're actually quite reasonable people, and in no way are we trying proffer pseudo-science. To be honest, the point of the article was to bring attention to a technological use of cable that has yet to be discussed on the website (which focuses mostly on urban systems) and hopefully to start a discussion on the merits or drawbacks of using ropeways on farms. We respect your decision to not post anymore but I sincerely do hope you reconsider and that that we see more of your valuable comments on the site!
  7. I would *slightly* echo the concerns raised by Helping Out. When I first read this post a week ago I found the fuel efficiency (?) claims to be, at most, absurd and, at least, vacuous. Perhaps a revision or an update would make everyone happy.
  8. @ Sean. Agreed. I've been trying to find more data on this matter but haven't found the time yet. Hopefully I can dig something up by next week to properly address this.
  9. I agree that the given data are misleading. But we tend to underestimate the advantages of rolling metal wheels on metal cables or rail. For example , the mining monorails - standard in most coal or gold mines, that runs on suspended I-profiles are able to transport loads up to 120 tons with a 82 kW engine - with the capability of climb a 25° incline (>40%) with 45 T load , something not feasible with trucks. From what I'm seeing in the video, the key point will be the flex of the carrying rope , the supports could be light, but the rope will need lot of tension to reduce efforts.
  10. Great article. I am deasling with some off these issues as well..
  11. For a more general article on similar systems see this http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2011/01/aerial-ropeways-automatic-cargo-transport.html

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