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Chapter 1

Farm power in the context of smallholder livelihoods

Rural livelihoods in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are under considerable stress. Economies and the political environment are experiencing a period of significant transformation, and poverty remains endemic. In many countries, a substantial proportion of the rural population lives below the poverty line, per capita incomes are stagnant, and life expectancy is often static at best. Agriculture remains at the core of rural livelihoods and has a major influence on livelihood outcomes. Farm power is a crucial input in the agricultural production process, and movement towards market-oriented production often require a greater application of power. Factors that reduce the availability of farm power (from human, draught animal and tractor sources) and compromise the ability to cultivate sufficient land have long been recognized as a source of poverty in the region (Iliffe, 1987). This is precisely the challenge facing many parts of sub-Saharan Africa at prestent.

Many of the gains made in mechanizing tillage practices during the twentieth century were reversed in the closing decades of the century. Structural adjustment left gaps in support for the smallholder sector, with the reduction or withdrawal of agricultural input subsidies and credit, disruption of produce markets, closure of government tractor-hire services, and weakened veterinary services. Simultaneously, the stock of draught animals was decimated in many communities by disease, drought, distress sales and theft. FAO estimated that, in the late 1990s, 65 percent of the cultivated area in sub-Saharan Africa was prepared by hand, 25 percent by draught animals, and 10 percent by tractor (FAO, 2003). In the next 30 years, FAO projects that, in the absence of change, much of the region will continue to be tilled by hand or draught animals. However, there will be some movement away from humans as the principal source of farm power.

At the very time when many communities have been reverting to tilling the soil by hand, the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has begun to take its toll on the agricultural workforce. The loss of labour has been compounded by the effects of improved access to primary education and persistent urban migration, drawing children and young adults away from farming. In an era of deteriorating markets for many cash crops, increasing claims on households’ meagre financial resources, and the removal of support for purchasing farm inputs, many rural livelihoods are under severe strain. An understanding of the interaction between farm power and livelihood outcomes is central to enhancing smallholder livelihoods.

Purpose and scope of the study

The purpose of this study is to increase the understanding of the role of farm power and its implications for smallholder livelihoods in selected farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Farm power embraces all forms of power inputs into agricultural production, ranging from human inputs, to animal traction and engine-driven technologies, together with their associated tools and implements. This study has concentrated on the power sources used for primary tillage, namely the activities associated with preparing the land prior to planting, either digging by hand or ploughing using draught animals or tractors. The study originally set out to examine the power inputs and implements relating to a range of field activities in crop production from land preparation through to harvest. In practice, however, in many farming systems in the region, the use of draught animals and tractors is confined almost exclusively to primary tillage while all other operations rely on hand power. Indeed, out of 11 study sites that use draught animal power (DAP), only one community uses DAP for weeding; and out of seven communities using tractors, only one farmer uses a tractor-drawn planter.

The study is innovative in adopting a livelihoods approach to conduct a detailed analysis of the use of farm power at community and household levels. Farm-power strategies pursued by an individual household are determined not only by its asset base; they are also influenced by the farming system, the profitability of agriculture, the infrastructure and the state of the economy. Hence, a study of farm-power systems is well suited to the holistic and integrated approach provided by livelihoods analysis (DFID, 1998), giving rise to additional insights that would not necessarily emerge when using more conventional approaches.

Field studies were conducted in two communities in each of seven countries: Ghana and Nigeria in west Africa; and Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia in eastern and southern Africa. The communities were chosen to be broadly representative of sub-Saharan Africa. They cover six of the ten principal farming systems, with emphasis on the maize mixed system (the dominant food production system in east and southern Africa), and the mixed cereal - root and tree crop systems (typical of west Africa). The principal omissions were the root crop system (found principally in west and southern Africa) and the forest-based system (predominantly located in central and southern Africa) as both pose natural constraints to mechanized farming; the pastoral system; and smallholders in large-scale irrigation schemes. Some field sites included farmers with land under small-scale irrigation but they were not analysed separately.

Study methodology

The in-country studies were conducted by two national consultants, combining the disciplines of agricultural engineering with either agricultural economics or extension (Annex 1). The Agricultural and Food Engineering Technologies Service (AGST), FAO, Rome, managed the study with inputs from the Agricultural Management, Marketing and Finance Service (AGSF), through its officer based in the FAO Regional Office in Accra.

A workshop for developing a common methodology for the fieldwork was attended by the country study teams and FAO staff. It was held in October 2001 at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa. The fieldwork was undertaken between October and December 2001. More than 1 250 people participated in the fieldwork by attending community meetings and farm-power subgroup meetings, or participating in individual household interviews. Women accounted for about one-third of the participants at each level of enquiry. Rapid rural appraisal methods were used to collect information at the community level and from different farm-power groups. Individual household interviews focused on livelihoods analysis and included households from each of the farm-power groups present in the community, stratified by the sex of the household head. A second workshop shared findings from the fieldwork and identified opportunities for farm power and implements to promote smallholder livelihoods; it was held at the ILRI in Addis Ababa in February 2002.

Structure of the report

This report presents the main findings arising from the in-country studies. The study is placed in the context of the principal economic and agricultural characteristics of the seven countries participating in the study, supported by an overview of the 14 field sites (Chapter 2). Chapter 3 presents the key developments in farm-power systems experienced in the twentieth century as communities moved from total reliance on hoe cultivation to the use of DAP and tractors, with varying degrees of sustainability. The field sites have been grouped according to their predominant power source, and this provides the basis for the livelihoods analysis of different farm-power systems (Chapter 4). Chapters 5 and 6 focus on the livelihoods systems of individual farm-power groups, reviewing their assets base, livelihood strategies and outcomes. The report concludes with a summary of the main findings and recommendations for strengthening the contribution of farm power to smallholder livelihoods (Chapter 7).

Annex 2 presents an overview of the conceptual framework, adapting the livelihoods approach to analyse farm-power systems, together with details of the field methods. It also contains detailed case studies of the three main farm-power systems and reviews the social mechanisms used to mobilize farm-power resources in different communities. The full findings and site-specific details may be found in the individual country reports, as listed in the References. Supporting data are presented in Annex 3.

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