Scale-up agricultural mechanisation to profitably transform farming in Africa

By George Marechera.

Scaling-up agricultural mechanisation services can transform farming in Africa as it offers an opportunity for smallholder farmers to transition from subsistence to commercial farming.

The contribution of mechanisation services have been applauded in enhancing production processes, reduce high cost of labour, facilitate competitive pricing for farmers and promote efficient use of agricultural inputs.

Agricultural mechanisation implies the use of various power sources and improved farm tools and equipment like tractors, with a view to reducing the drudgery of the human beings and draught animals and reduce the losses at different stages of crop production.

The use of mechanisation services should be viewed from the value-chain approach to create value for investors and ensure efficiency among farmers for maximum productivity. With African population expected to increase to 2.4 billion by 2050, mechanisation services offer an investment opportunity among farmers to produce more food to cater for the increased demand while generating better returns.

Most of our people especially in the rural areas depend on smallholder farming. But millions remain impoverished because, unlike farmers in other parts of the world who continue to reap the benefits accrued from adopting mechanisation services, our farmers lack consistent access to agriculture innovations that would allow them to prosper.

The Indian Green Revolution, for instance, is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. India made a strategic decision to use mechanisation services on a large scale benefiting both small, medium and large size farms. This has enhanced the country’s farming operations in a timely manner, better quality of operations and precision in the application of the inputs by farmers.

Africa can do it too by deliberately adopting mechanisation services for its farming operations to enhance productivity. There is hope if the current trends being witnessed in some African countries continue.

For instance, a mechanisation model known as the Cassava Mechanisation and Agro-processing Project (CAMAP) that is being implemented by AATF in collaboration with the governments of Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania has facilitated mechanisation services to over 450,000 households.

Cassava is an economically impor­tant crop in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet farmers in the region achieve on average a yield of just 7-9 tonnes per hectare, around a third of that pro­duced by their counterparts in Asia and Latin America.

A quick look at current results from CAMAP indicate farmers spend 30 days to prepare and plant, costing an estimated $180 while it would take them only one hour with mechanisation at an estimated cost of $140, saving the farmer $40.

CAMAP is working towards revitalizing the cassava industry through mechanised production and agro-processing along the cassava value chain. The Project aims to improve cassava productivity through increasing the operational effi­ciency and improving market linkages for smallholder farmers.  With this approach, the Project is enhancing food security, incomes and livelihoods for farmers, processors, and marketers in the cassava sector.

In order to scale-up and ensure adoption of mechanisation services, AATF has been facilitating access to  new production and processing machinery designed to effectively service the typical African smallholder farm, with a particular focus on transforming the hardy, climate-resilient cassava crop into a major money maker where over one million farmers and their families could benefit.

To enhance reach to more farmers, AATF has developed and deployed a digital application known as Agridrive App that supports access to mechanisation services. The App allows farmers to book and pay for mechanisation services such as ploughing, harrowing, planting and harvesting from wherever they are.

A number of potential pathways for delivery of mechanisation services to farmers are being explored under the CAMAP project including government sponsored programmes, private entrepreneurs and association-based market connections.

Transforming African agriculture requires a mix of strategies to unlock the continent’s capability to maximise productivity and to continue the path of progress in improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers.

Mechanisation can contribute immensely towards transforming smallholder farming into more profitable business enterprises. This however requires governments to work with private sector   especially towards exposing farmers to these technologies through establishment of mechanisation model farms to provide technology demonstrations. It also calls for building the capacity of local entrepreneurs and training them on mechanisation service provision while facilitating market linkages for inputs and products from the farms.

The writer is the Business Development Manager and also the Managing Director, Agridrive Ltd at AATF.

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