Of all the modern agricultural technologies introduced in developing countries, mechanization has probably proved the most controversial. Mechanization has been blamed for exacerbating rural unemployment and contributing to other social ills.
In the 1960s, '70s and early '80s, large numbers of tractors were supplied as gifts from donors or on advantageous loan terms to developing countries. Projects designed to provide tractor services through government agencies produced a miserable track record. These public sector tractor-hire schemes collapsed because of the distorted cost of capital as compared to labour and draft animals, chronic mismanagement and the intrinsic inefficiencies of any government-run machinery service.
But developing countries still need labour-saving technologies. The demand will rise naturally with a growing population's demand for food, particularly in view of the rural migration taking place and as the younger generation is turning away from agriculture and towards the urban centres for possible employment. Indeed there are already labour shortages at critical stages in the cropping calendar. What is now increasingly important is to encourage sustainable private sector development that can offer farmers the right choice of technology at the right price to increase agricultural productivity, provide food security and reduce post-harvest losses.
Agricultural mechanization is not an isolated activity but is part of a complex array of interactions between numerous actors. Besides agronomic, technical and social aspects there is also an important role played by institutional aspects such as agricultural education, extension and research. The rural infrastructure and world markets are of vital importance.
Several countries are once again trying to upgrade the level of agricultural mechanization through bulk purchases and distribution of power tillers and/or tractors. FAO has encouraged member countries to take stock of their situation and to analyse the farmers’ needs, the institutional arrangements in the country and the availability of services to meet these needs. FAO can assist in this process which should be participatory. The exercise results in the formulation of a national agricultural mechanization strategy and has now been undertaken in numerous countries, particularly in Africa. The formulated strategy can then serve to prepare an action plan to improve agricultural production and food security through policy measures, investments and interventions of an agricultural and/or technical nature.