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Agricultural mechanisation in Africa can raise productivity and make rural employment more attractive, thus ensuring the continent’s future growth and poverty alleviation, experts say.
The experts, in a report launched in Malawi last month (10 July), examined seven countries — Ethiopia, Mali, Malawi, Morocco, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia — that are at the forefront of mechanisation and how their successes could be replicated across Africa.
The report was published by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of 17 African and international agricultural experts.
“Africa is the region with the least mechanised agricultural system in the world,” says the report. “African farmers have ten times fewer mechanised tools per farm area than farmers in other developing regions.”
“This report provides evidence needed to shape successful strategies on mechanisation and experience-sharing in the African context.”
Noble Banadda, Makerere University
According to the report, the seven countries selected for the case studies had average annual agricultural machinery growth rates ranging from 2.73 to 3.12 whereas that of their average annual agricultural output rates ranged from four to 8.5 between 2005 and 2014.
The success stories include the Moroccan government having a department of agronomy and agricultural machinery that designs and develop machines and tools for use by Moroccan farmers while Rwanda has, among others, village mechanisation service centres operated by the government.
Noble Banadda, a member of the panel and chair of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Uganda’s Makerere University, tells SciDev.Net that more than 70 per cent of the young population in Africa live on less than US$2 a day as they struggle with high unemployment.
The report makes seven recommendations including a need to elevate national agricultural mechanisation investment strategies within national agricultural plans, design socially and politically mechanisation pathways that are sustainable and prioritise the entire agricultural value chain mechanisation.
“The Malabo Montpellier Panel seeks to provide actionable recommendations for African policymakers on agricultural mechanisation,” says Banadda. “This report provides evidence needed to shape successful strategies on mechanisation and experience-sharing in the African context.”
The experts examined policies, institutional changes and programmatic interventions these countries have made, and their likely impact on the food value chains.
Mechanisation, according to Banadda, is necessary along the whole value chain, including production, post-harvest handling, processing, transport and marketing stages. “Technologies make these stages more efficient and lucrative, especially for the youth,” he notes.
The benefits of mechanization along the agricultural value chain
Banadda adds that mechanisation needs not replace labour but can provide millions of jobs in processing, packaging, marketing and transport.
“More and more Africans can be employed as the food and beverage market grows,” he explains, citing the opportunity to bring value addition to Africa, for example, turning cocoa into chocolate and converting maize into breakfast cereals.
Banadda explains that mechanising agriculture to make it more lucrative and tech-savvy would encourage young people into agricultural jobs. “Start-ups and app developers such as Hello Tractor, which links tractor owners to [Nigerian] farmers, are a great example of this.”Nuhu Hatibu, regional operations head for Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, says it is high time Africa mechanised agriculture as a pathway for alleviating poverty.
The continent, Hatibu says, needs to adapt already existing technologies such as small engines that are affordable, and can be operated with solar energy and make them affordable, and usable by smallholders instead of going for the expensive technologies.
“Planners do not need to be paralysed by past failures and they should go for licenses to support adaptation, build local capacity and mechanise the entire agricultural value chain including value addition to agricultural products,” he says.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.