Broadly, mechanization takes shape in the simplicity of a sickle used by hand or the complexity of a motorized tractor. Both make agricultural labor easier, increase yields, and ultimately improve the quality of crops; but even more, mechanization in the form of the latter, offers a catalyst for sustainable farming for smallholder farmers who will need to provide for Africa’s growing population.
Mechanization is important especially when family farms exceed two acres. At the World Food Bank, we are working with the professional farm managers at our Hub sites to provide services to farmers who have properties close together, where it is feasible to provide mechanized plowing, planting and harvesting services. We are also providing access to microfinance providers to fund these costs to farmers.
Global sustainable farming is required to eliminate current food insecurities and to avoid scarcities in the future. While much of the global farming community uses mechanized farming methods, there are some parts of Asia and Africa that rely on the physical labor of people. According to CEMA, a European organization that promotes the use of modern farm machine technology, the continent of Africa struggles with mechanization. Over 60 percent of farm power comes from the efforts of women, the elderly, and children; 25 percent is provided by animals; and less than 20 percent is provided by engine power. Only five tractors are used per 1,000 farmers and agricultural workers.
Widespread mechanized farming in Africa has the potential to elevate Africa’s economy, but both public and private sectors must contribute and support the need for machinery for smallholder farmers. In addition to diverse financial backing, education about the use and maintenance of machinery is necessary for prolonged and successful mechanized farming practices. The International Food Policy Research Institute explains that in Ghana 80 percent of farmers who owned machinery faced breakdowns because they lacked substantial knowledge of upkeep. Mechanized farming in Africa will promote more successful outcomes for smallholder farmers if they have government and private donor support.
While investing in tractors for smallholder farmers across the continent may present a challenge, there are options that are developing in other parts of the world that speak to our era of immediacy. A solution, which has taken flight in India, is renting a tractor through an app like Uber or Lyft called Trringo. The farmer requests a tractor and driver through the app, and the services are provided when the farmer is in need of machinery but cannot afford to invest in a tractor for him- or herself. This technology contributes to the ever-evolving state of agribusiness and combats those claims that suggest decreased employment rates. The truth about mechanization is that it allows for innovative jobs to take shape, adding to traditional agricultural positions that are still needed but transforming.
Mechanization is an essential part of the solution to end hunger and lift people out of poverty in Africa. In addition to improved seeds, effective fertilizers, and irrigation, mechanization encourages more effective results within these essential components of farming. The FAO supports the use of a wide variety of agricultural equipment because it makes for precise farming: seeding can be applied with minimum soil disturbance, planting becomes more efficient, the application of inputs is regimented, and harvesting and transporting are less damaging to crops. If global food demand is predicted to double by 2050, we must start implementing tools that will increase agricultural productivity across the globe.