New model aims to banish the hoe to the museum

The World Bank estimates that there are around five tractors for every 1,000 farmers in Africa, in comparison; there are almost 1,600 for every 1,000 farmers in the US.

Or put it another way. When you think of an African farmer, what image do you see? Chances are you picture a woman cultivating her farm with a simple hand-hoe, a technology long obsolete.

With some of the lowest rates of mechanization in the world, the majority of Africa’s smallholder farmers have no option but to plant, harvest and process their crops by hand.

Low rates of mechanization not only reduce the welfare and quality of life for farmers but also limit farm productivity.

Research in India found that farmers who either owned or hired a tractor saw productivity increase by as much as 50 percent compared with those who did not.

As well as limiting productivity, there is another more indirect social cost resulting from low rates of mechanization.

For the past two decades, Africa has had the highest rate of urbanization in the developing world, with youth leading the charge.

Among the reasons cited for this exodus to the city is limited access to secure land, and the low profitability and hard work associated with agriculture.

Young people have watched their parents struggle to survive on the land, and are voting with their feet for a different life.

What is holding back mechanization in Africa?

There is recognition from all stakeholders for the need to increase mechanization right across the agricultural value chain, from tractors and implements to plant the crop, to technology to help harvest, process and store it.

In 2014, through the Malabo Declaration, the African Union recognized the importance of suitable, reliable and affordable access to mechanization when it comes to accelerating agricultural growth in Africa.

Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture with the African Union Commission Her Excellency Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, repeatedly calls for the hand-held hoe to be relegated to the museum.

However, despite the push for an increase in mechanization, uptake of machinery by both small- and medium-scale farmers remains low.

Discussions with commercial vendors of agricultural equipment; from tractors, to fertilizer blending equipment and agro-processing machinery all emphasize that there is demand from small and medium enterprises, but they lack access to finance and do not have the necessary experience to make informed decisions on the purchase of appropriate equipment and how this should be operated and maintained to maximize profits.