The mechanics behind the commercial shift
Across most of Africa today, the consensus among many governments is that single-commodity economies are simply not capable of delivering on broad-based economic development. It is agreed across the board, that only through the diversification of our economies can true growth and development be achieved. Consequently, several sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries including South Africa and Nigeria have turned to the agriculture sector to boost GDP and arguably, more importantly, food security.
Given that of the 60 million farming entities in Africa, 77 percent are subsistence farmers utilising manual farming methods, achieving sustainable industry growth could prove challenging. This is made more challenging by the fact that over 60 percent of farm power is still provided by the physical labour of women, the elderly and children, and that less than 20 percent of mechanisation services are provided by engine power.
The freedom to choose what to put on the table
Across most of SSA, smallholder farmers are trapped in a cycle of low crop productivity -- often as a result of a lack of skills and knowledge; inadequate soil inputs; inefficient irrigation and equipment; ineffective disease control; and extreme weather conditions, including drought. Many smallholder farmers live a hand to mouth existence, with weak purchasing power leaving them unable to obtain hybrid seed, suitable fertilizer and equipment -- and the economic independence to decide what food they want to put on the table for their families.
Mechanisation is key
In South Africa spending on agriculture, rural development and land reform are expected to amount to nearly R30-billion by 2019/20. The need for commercialisation to achieve industry growth has also been acknowledged -- in fact, South Africa has declared 2017 as "The year of the commercialisation of the black smallholder farming sector".
It stands to reason that for a smallholder farmer to successfully commercialise, mechanisation is essential. Agricultural mechanisation removes the toil associated with farming, eliminating time and labour bottlenecks, allowing farmers to improve techniques and introduce sustainable practices. Initiatives that promote mechanisation, through public and private sector support are critical.
Rise of the Machines
In Africa, mechanisation has often been met with mistrust and suspicion. Not too long ago, workers saw mechanisation as a threat to farm labour and tenant farmers. However, the time has shown that not only does mechanisation increase the demand for labour, but it also enables more land to be cultivated and profitably applied along the value chain. Given the widening array of mechanisation options available, jobs are not actually lost but gained in new fields of employment such as agri-food processing and machinery-related services.
The tide is changing. Going forward, more and more African countries will ensure that mechanisation becomes a significant part of agriculture policy.
New technologies are constantly being developed that will improve the efficiency of crop and livestock production, as well as quickly neutralising threats such as disease and drought. Moreover, the multifunctionality and efficiency of machines allow them to be used for transportation, stationary power applications and infrastructure improvements such as drainage, irrigation canals or even roadworks.
A farm in a box
Effective commercialisation cannot be achieved by one stakeholder alone -- private sector players with innovative solutions and industry expertise partnering with government initiatives are critical to the transformation of the sector. For example, AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agriculture equipment, offers farmers a 'farm in a box'. Essentially, the package provides a range of tractors and a full line of accompanying implements including ploughs, planters and trailers.
This specific package was tested in Zambia resulting in more than a three-fold increase in yield. Of course, education is a key component -- farmers need to be informed about core agricultural practices and techniques as well as how to operate, service and maintain agricultural equipment. For far too long smallholder farmers have relied on outdated farming methods that have hampered the growth of Africa's agriculture sector. In order to truly unlock Africa's economic potential, it is imperative that smallholder farmers are moved into the formal economy.
This can only be achieved by introducing more suitable mechanisation solutions that increase land productivity and see African people rise against the threat of hunger. The tide is changing. Going forward, more and more African countries will ensure that mechanisation becomes a significant part of agriculture policy.
It has been demonstrated that the effective use of equipment and technologies results in a higher yield and ultimately, increased profit. Yes, it's about national GDP growth and tighter food security, but it's also about empowering farmers to make their own economic decisions and improve their families' livelihoods. Now is the time to sow the seeds of mechanisation that will ensure an entire continent reaps the benefits.