Farm mechanisation: balanced approaches
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CTA. 1998. Farm mechanisation: balanced approaches. Spore 75. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48078
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore75.pdf
The image of the broken-down tractor is one of the stereotypes of over-hasty development strategies. Sceptical reports about the failure of agricultural projects to meet ambitious targets are often accompanied by photos of rusting, inappropriate...
The image of the broken-down tractor is one of the stereotypes of over-hasty development strategies. Sceptical reports about the failure of agricultural projects to meet ambitious targets are often accompanied by photos of rusting, inappropriate farm equipment dating from the 1960s and 1970s. In the same way, pictures of inappropriate and unused windmills, or second-hand computers, are scattered across the pages of sceptical reports of development mistakes in the 1980s and 1990s. And yet a good craftsperson does not blame his or her tools, and if agricultural mechanisation has not lived up to its promises, the reasons lie not in the technologies, but in the decisions about how they are used ? and by whom. We take a look at strategies for real empowerment, for using human and animal muscle power and mechanical energy in ways that are better than ever for raising food production. Farmers mechanise to produce more for the same amount of labour, and to reduce drudgery, according to a recent study report undertaken for CTA and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Not that mechanisation should be confused with motorisation and tractorisation ? these are just two options, representing a small share of agricultural work in most ACP States. Indeed, some of the most successful attempts at mechanisation have used animal power ? estimated to perform up to 20% of farming operations. Most agricultural work (perhaps 80%) still depends entirely on human labour. The process of agricultural mechanisation, the report says, has to take three important contexts into account: the economic, environmental and social. Obviously, no farmer is going to invest in mechanisation without the outlook of increased income and profit: the lack of certainty here has often led to the demise of supporting services, such as tractor hire, suppliers and local maintenance and repair enterprises. Mechanisation is not a guarantee for improved productivity. In many cases, such as in the Segou and Atacora regions of Mali, where animal traction has become part of the landscape in the last three decades, it has led to increased production but only by making it possible for mechanised farmers to increase the land they can cultivate. This in turn depends on their ability to acquire or have access to more land, a topic discussed in the previous article. In the Mali projects, some farmers obtained 50% more land, and increased production accordingly ? although there are many reports of yield per hectare actually falling after mechanisation. Such short-term gains in income and food security, which are not full blessings for all farmers, put longer-term development at risk, by damaging the local environmental system. In such circumstances, agricultural mechanisation brings fallow land back into use more quickly and, at the same time, reduces the area of land lying fallow. It hinders the natural regeneration of trees and bushes, impoverishes the stock of organic matter in the soil, and it can lead to erosion. It can also assist conservation, the report emphasises, by making the work of building bunds and terraces easier to undertake. Despite these advantages, there is a widespread belief that it could lead to a vicious circle of extensification into more and more vulnerable ecosystems, and to land degradation. The social side is that, like most efforts to affect development through a technology thrust, it leads to a widening gap of opportunity and wealth in rural areas. In the wrong hands, without sensitive management, the technology which was expected to raise living standards and reduce drudgery can in fact impoverish members of the community and force them to join the drift to the city. Those owning or controlling the technology receive the greatest benefit: equitable development does not seem possible. Need for new strategies The recent wave of liberalisation in most ACP States has seen the decline of government efforts to encourage mechanisation directly. Instead, the market force of demand is a reason for new companies to invest in more appropriate products and services, and more credit facilities are becoming available. Mechanisation is now getting ready for real business, but a well-balanced approach will be required for it to be a proper player in strategies for sustainable agriculture, rather than continuing its rather disruptive history. A seminar organised by CTA in November 1997 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on this topic led to a broad set of guidelines for the 'where/how' question of applying mechanisation. The sixty participants, from 19 African countries, concluded that in the foreseeable future, animal traction is likely to be the preferred system in rain-fed smallholder farming systems in African savannah zones. Motorised mechanisation was seen as more appropriate in conditions wherein there are large farms, the presence of irrigation (only 5% of sub-Saharan African agriculture at present), and good marketing opportunities for increased and more regular production. The importance of mechanisation was also stressed in transport, crop and animal husbandry and post-harvest storage and food processing. Much attention will be needed for training and credit, to train blacksmiths and to develop forage management. Governments are expected to create a climate that will enable mechanisation to become a viable option, across a broad landscape of tax measures, land tenure rights, health, infrastructure (roads) and special assistance programmes for those areas at risk (including, presumably, dealing with people displaced by the gap-widening impact of mechanisation). In the frequent discussions now underway about strategies for mechanisation, it is recognised that little attention is paid to conservation tillage systems aimed at soil fertility, nor to gender issues ? participants at the CTA seminar admitted as much, noting that the promotion, adoption and benefits of mechanisation in sub-Saharan Africa are not gender-neutral. Women provide a high proportion of agricultural labour, yet ? as participation in the workshops confirmed ? mechanisation is still a male-dominated subject. Power for food security Another key issue, technical but central, is energy and fuel, and it is insufficiently addressed in strategy seminars. The push towards motorisation is almost bound to continue, with animal traction being seen as an intermediary step. Few mechanisation strategies face this, but they will soon be forced to, given that there are already acute fuel shortages in many rural areas. One approach to follow is to link mechanisation more closely with investment in energy systems which can provide energy for making agricultural equipment, motor fuels for operating it, and fuels for powering agro-processing plants, at the micro- and macro-levels. The challenge is to see how these developments for new sources of power and fuel can be made available for agricultural mechanisation. Mechanisation is not an end in itself, but a means of development. For those strategists who love to talk about empowerment, the challenge of getting power to the people, to the plough, and to the processing plant, is a tough one. Sources: Integrating mechanisation into strategies for sustainable agriculture. Summary report and recommendations of a CTA Seminar. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 24-29 November 1997. ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), PO Box 380, 6700 AJ Wageningen, The Netherlands. CTA number 852. 5 credit points. See page 13 on how to obtain CTA publications. Mechanisation of agricultural work in sub-Saharan Africa: study report. March 1997, CTA. Address given above. CTA number 841. 5 credit points. See page 13 on how to obtain CTA publications. CIGR, International Commission on Agricultural Engineering, c/o Universiteit fuer Landtechniek, Universitaet Bonn, Nussallee 5, D-53115 Bonn, Germany. Fax: +49 228 73 25 95 Email: http://www.agricta.org/Sporeemail@example.com Website: http://wwworg.nlh.no/CIGR/ FAO-AGSE, Food and Agriculture Organization, Agricultural Engineering Branch, via delle Terme di Caracalla, I-00100 Rome, Italy. Fax: +39 6 57053152 Website: http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/ FARMESA, Farm-Level Applied Research Methods in East and Southern Africa, PO Box 3730, Harare, Zimbabwe. Fax: +263 4 758055 Email: http://www.agricta.org/Sporefirstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.farmesa.co.zw/ IFAD, International Fund for Agricultural Development, via del Serafico 107, I ? 00142 Rome, Italy. Fax: +39 6 504 3463 Email: http://www.agricta.org/Sporeemail@example.com