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Boosting farm productivity in Africa through the sustainable use of machines

Boosting farm productivity in Africa through the sustainable use of machines

10 Oct 2018

New African Union-FAO framework also aims to create new jobs while reducing reliance on manual labor

FAO and the African Union on 5 October 2018 launched a new framework document that aims to increase agricultural efficiency and reduce drudgery by helping countries in Africa to develop strategies for sustainable farm mechanization.

The Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization: A Framework for Africa (SAMA) is the result of discussions with policy makers from AU member states, the AU Commission, FAO and key partners. It offers a detailed look at the history of machinery in Africa, and points the way towards addressing challenges and creating new opportunities to assure the successful adoption of mechanization.

“Doubling agricultural productivity and eliminating hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025 will be no more than a mirage unless mechanization is accorded utmost importance,” AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Sacko, said at the launch of the framework at FAO.

Remarkably more than three-fourths of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa prepare their lands using only hand tools, a practice that entails poor productivity, repels youth and is incompatible with the continent’s Zero Hunger goal.

“Farmers in Africa should be able to use modern agricultural technology, both digital and mechanical, to boost the agricultural sector in a sustainable way,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo.

The new framework identifies 10 priorities for AU member states to include in their national plans, ranging from the need for a stable supply of machine spare parts and innovative financing mechanisms, and the importance of regional collaborations that allow for cross-border hiring services.

The framework notes that successful national mechanization strategies will address key sustainability issues including gender, youth, environmental protection and the overarching principle that farming must be profitable. It also emphasizes that these strategies should cover the entire agrifood value chain, including harvesting, handling, processing and food safety aspects, with an eye to reducing food losses, boosting rural employment and bolstering the links between farmers and consumers.

Past, present and future

While tractors are used to prepare land on over 60 percent of cultivated lands in Asia, the corresponding figure for Sub-Saharan Africa is around 5 percent. Moreover, the use of draught animals in sub-Saharan Africa is minimal outside of Ethiopia – due in considerable measure to the tsetse fly – so almost all the work is done manually.

One result is that many African farmers deploy low-yielding techniques and may prefer slash-and-burn methods.

Today smaller and more affordable machinery, such as two-wheel tractors, are available hiring services using digital technologies are proving popular around the continent, underscoring how the sharing of capital assets can be leveraged to achieve greater scale and access to modern tools.

What is to be done?

The framework notes that cross-border initiatives – for dealers, supply networks and tractor operators – can allow for viable scale and greater utilization.

Another key consideration is farm profitability. This can be fostered by giving access to markets, credit and land tenure a visible role in mechanization policies. The framework has been designed to contribute to the pledges made in the African Union’s Malabo Declaration and Agenda 2063, and to do so in a way that is private-sector driven, environmentally smart, affordable and friendly to smallholder farmers.

Its implementation will require significant contributions from other stakeholders, including public institutions and private actors such as the European Agricultural Machinery Industries Association (CEMA), which has just renewed its partnership with FAO to work on issues related to sustainable mechanization strategies in developing countries.

FAO and the AU’s strategy acknowledges that “there is great potential for innovation in African agriculture” – notably with the proliferation of mobile technologies and access to information and services – and that a significant effort in capacity development will have to be made to rise to related challenges.

To that end, FAO and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have also published a training manual to help roll out more effective networks of access to small-scale mechanization services.


AUC launches the Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization Framework

Speaking at the launch of the Framework, AUC Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, H.E Amb Josefa Sacko reiterated the importance the Commission places on sustainable agricultural mechanization in African agriculture as a critical factor in realizing the commitments of the AU Malabo Declaration on agriculture transformation.

She further stressed that, “We will not be able to achieve the laudable objectives that we have set for ourselves, if agriculture continues to be saddled with the heavy drudgery of both farm and off-farm activities in the sector,” she said. “Efforts to attract youths to agriculture will also remain an illusion.”

Commissioner Sacko announced that she together with Angolan First Lady, H.E Ana Afonso Dias Lourenço would inaugurate the first Hand-Held Hoe Museum in Angola; building on the initiative by the former Chairperson of the AUC, H.E Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who championed the campaign to relegate the hand-held hoe to the museum and replace it with tillers, a symbolic effort to emphasize the importance of removing the drudgery from agriculture, and thereby improving labour productivity, especially for women.

The Permanent Representatives to the Rome-based UN Agencies, from Ethiopia, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, shared their respective country experiences on agricultural mechanization and lauded the effort by the AUC and FAO to develop the framework.

In her closing remarks, the Deputy Director-General of FAO, Maria Helena Semedo said she was pleased that the joint effort between FAO and AUC had “given birth to a new baby” which had been outdoored. She expressed the hope that the same commitment would be provided to facilitate implementation of the strategy Framework, and help transform agriculture in Africa.

Agricultural Mechanization

The AUC and FAO view agricultural mechanization in Africa as an indispensable pillar for attaining the zero Hunger Vision by 2025, as stated in the Malabo Declaration of 2014, Aspiration 1 of the AU’s Agenda 2063, and Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Doubling agricultural productivity and eliminating hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025 can only be possible if mechanization is accorded the utmost importance. This includes enhancing access to mechanization services, improving access to quality and affordable inputs, such as seed and fertilizer, and delivering efficient water resources and management systems including irrigation.

Mechanization in the twenty first century must follow some core principles. It must be built along the entire agricultural value chain, private sector driven, environmentally competitive and climate smart, and economically viable and affordable, especially to small-scale farmers who constitute the bulk of African farmers. Mechanization must target youth, specifically to make agriculture more attractive for employment and entrepreneurship.