If agricultural mechanization efforts are to succeed in Africa, there is an urgent need for all concerned, be they farmers, supporters, planners or policy-makers to understand and contribute to agricultural mechanization efforts across the entire farming system and with a value chain perspective.
A new look and perspective to address mechanization issues in Africa is urgently called for. This will require deliberate government intervention in creating an enabling environment and a strong mechanism to support farmers, manufacturers and other entrepreneurs, such as contract hirers, in leading the way in mechanization efforts.
Many African countries have suffered in international development terms from characterization as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), and the development paradigm resulting from that status has been one of poverty alleviation rather than investment for economic growth. A new look at development planning is needed in which the focus is on sustainable economic growth.
Among European and North American farm machinery manufacturers traditionally responsible for supplying equipment to Africa, two problems have reduced their interest in the continent. First, the machines they produce are for Western large-scale and capital-intensive farming markets, and these are increasingly sophisticated, large and expensive. Second, the African market is perceived as declining relative to two decades ago, hence, not worthy of investing marketing resources in. On the other hand, emerging economies, especially in Asia, are producing machines more suited to Africa in terms of both specification and price. What is needed is for the producers in Asia to adopt the marketing and technical support practices that hitherto have made European manufacturers highly successful in worldwide machinery marketing.
If the mechanization challenges can be tackled successfully, there are several opportunities that can be exploited. These include:
- the new-found climate of optimism already evident in many African countries, supported by generally positive economic growth indicators;
- new sources of farm machinery, more suitable for African conditions, from the newly- emergent industrial economies such as India, China and Brazil;
- the growing use of intermediate and non-motorized means of transport including draught animals and carts, bicycles or motorbikes;
- conservation agriculture and its advantages in reversing soil degradation and loss, increasing fertility, and reducing the power demands for cultivation;
- efficient manual and animal-powered minimum and no-till direct-seeding and chemical- application systems in conservation agriculture establishments (Zamwipe, animal-drawn direct seeders, pedestrian and animal-drawn sprayers, knife rollers, etc.);
- alternative energy sources such as biomass, wind, solar, microhydropower and biodiesel;
- the information technology explosion, including the Internet as a ready source of
information and the cell phone as a means of communication for rural communities;
- new crop varieties and new cropping opportunities resulting from climate change concerns.