by Clare Bishop-Sambrook2
This paper reports on the main findings from a study of farm power and its role in smallholder livelihoods undertaken in 14 communities from seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The paper commences with a review of developments in the use of farm power in the twentieth century, as communities moved from complete reliance on tilling the soil by hand to ploughing with draught animals or tractors. However, many of the gains made in mechanising tillage practices during the twentieth century were reversed during the closing decades of the century. At the very time when many communities have been reverting to hand power, the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has begun to take its toll on the agricultural workforce.
Three farm power systems are identified for grouping communities according to the relative significance of humans, draught animals and tractors as power sources for primary tillage: predominantly hoe cultivation communities where at least 50% of households use family or hired labour for land preparation; communities where at least 60% of households prepare their land using draught animal power (usually their own); and communities where over 35% of households use tractors for land preparation (usually hired). The livelihood activities and outcomes for communities in the different farm power systems are discussed. There is a sharp contrast between the poverty and general depression associated with the predominantly hoe systems of eastern and southern Africa where draught animal power was once more important, and communities in other farm power systems. In the hoe communities of root and tree crop farming systems of west Africa, the use of hand power (usually hired labour) is an integral part of the system rather than a sign of poverty. The paper explores some of the key characteristics of the farm power systems, focusing on livelihoods analysis at the household level, the inter-relationships between farm power groups within a community, the significance of the supporting infrastructure, the limited benefits reaped from mechanisation in the smallholder sector to date, and the implications of HIV/AIDS for farm power.
The paper concludes that, in the absence of a concerted effort by government, NGOs and the donor community to intervene to address some of the vulnerabilities of various farm power systems, it is likely that communities where the farm power base has already been damaged will face a continuing state of collapse. The extent to which other communities are able to maintain their existing farm power base and possibly achieve further mechanisation (including mechanisation beyond primary tillage), will depend on the state of their economies and supporting infrastructure, the profitability of farming, and the buoyancy of the rural non-farm economy. Recommendations for the immediate and short term, place priority on protecting livelihoods through reducing the vulnerability and ensuring the survival of households most at risk from losing their farm power assets. Activities in the medium to longer term focus on maximizing the potential of existing power sources and supporting households and communities as they adopt new sources of farm power.
At the beginning of the new millennium, 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, at best, static. Agriculture remains at the core of rural livelihoods and has a major influence on livelihood outcomes. Farm power is one of the more crucial inputs in the agricultural production process. Factors that reduce the availability of farm power, compromise the ability to cultivate sufficient land and have long been recognised as a source of poverty in the region (Iliffe, 1987). This is precisely the challenge facing many parts of sub-Saharan Africa at present.
Many of the gains made in mechanising tillage practices during the twentieth century were reversed during 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 weakening of veterinary services. Simultaneously, the stock of draught animals was decimated in many communities by disease, drought, distress sales and theft. In the late 1990s, FAO estimated that 65% of the cultivated area in sub-Saharan Africa was prepared by hand, 25% by draught animals, and 10% by tractor (FAO, 2003). Over the next 30 years, FAO projects that, unless there is change, much of the region will continue to be tilled by hand or draught animals, although 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 migration, drawing children and young adults away from farming. An understanding of the interaction between farm power and livelihood outcomes is central to promoting sustainable smallholder livelihoods.
This paper reports on the main findings from a study of farm power and its role in smallholder livelihoods undertaken by the Agricultural and Food Engineering Technologies Service (AGST), FAO, Rome (see Bishop-Sambrook, 2004a for full report). The study concentrated on the power inputs used for primary tillage (preparing the land prior to planting, either by digging by hand or ploughing using draught animals or tractors). In many farming systems in the region, the use of draught animals and tractors is almost exclusively confined to primary tillage and all other operations rely on hand power3.
The study was undertaken in 14 communities from seven countries: Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa, and Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia in Eastern and Southern Africa4. The communities were chosen to be broadly representative of the region, covering 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)5.
The study drew on the livelihoods methodology (DFID, 1998) to examine the contribution of farm power to smallholder livelihoods. Details of the livelihoods analysis at household level (examining the farm power asset base, livelihood strategies and outcomes) are described in a separate paper (Bishop-Sambrook, 2004b). This paper addresses four themes at the community level: developments in the use of farm power in the twentieth century; classification of communities by their predominant source of farm power; livelihoods in principal farm power systems; and key elements of the farm power system.
An enduring feature of any study of farm power in sub-Saharan Africa in the twentieth century is the dominant and persistent use of hand power for primary tillage. In the early 1900s, nearly all of the study sites relied on humans as their sole source of farm power. The exceptions were both sites in Ethiopia and one in Zambia where draught animals were already an integral part of the farming system. During the century, many communities experimented with alternative power sources and their experiences of farm mechanisation may be divided into two phases. The first phase was one of expansion followed by a brief period of stability; this covers the period when draught animals and tractors were first introduced into rural communities, and reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s. The second phase was generally one of contraction. This commenced as early as 1980 in some communities when the new power source proved unsustainable and many households reverted to their previous sources of power.
(i) Phase of expansion
Three patterns of mechanisation may be identified during the expansionist phase:
The first wave of DAP-based mechanisation occurred in the early years of the twentieth century, corresponding with the arrival of European settlers and the introduction of draught animals. In Kacaboi, Uganda for example, horses and oxen were introduced together with the Ransomes ox plough, in an initiative to expand the area under cotton – a cash crop produced for export. In the second wave (from the 1940s to the 1970s), the use of DAP at sites in Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia was stimulated by the introduction of ox-drawn ploughs and other implements from neighbouring countries. In Malawi, the government encouraged DAP by opening DAP training centres and providing loans to purchase animals and implements. In Kapchesombe, Uganda a government district farm institute was established to demonstrate and train farmers in the use of DAP implements. During this era agricultural production was generally profitable, households were generally food secure, and farmers earned enough to buy farm implements, as well as improve their standard of living. DAP farmers cultivated larger areas than households relying on hand power and grew cash crops. They were also able to generate additional income through DAP hire and haulage services.
Similarly, the introduction of tractors was closely linked to drives to accelerate cash crop production and increase the area under cultivation. In some instances, governments promoted tractors by building on earlier initiatives which had promoted DAP (Uganda and Zambia). In other communities, the private sector was the prime mover in offering tractor hire services (Tanzania).
The earliest record of a tractor demonstration amongst the study sites was in the mid-1950s at an agricultural show in Kumi town, Uganda. Uptake was slow: farmers were uncertain about benefits of tractorisation and were concerned about soil degradation. The government subsequently introduced a tractor hire service in 1960 to stimulate the production of cotton and millet. In 1965 government hire services were introduced in Nteme, Zambia to increase maize production whilst in Simupande, hire services were introduced through the Tobacco Board of Zambia to promote tobacco production. Tractors were introduced in Gyangyanadze, Ghana after the government cleared large tracts of land under a national agricultural mechanisation drive in 1970. A tractor hire scheme was based in the district capital of Babatokuma in Ghana in the early 1970s in a push to increase food production, produce raw materials for local industries, and achieve import substitution. However, the centre was not readily accessible for farmers in Babatokuma (16 km away) and it was only after an individual in the community bought a tractor that their use increased.
Tractors were introduced to the Tanzanian field sites in the 1970s through farmers purchasing tractors for their own use and offering hire services to others. Tractor use at Mvomero accompanied the introduction of cotton as the main cash crop. Farmers hired tractors in order to increase their cultivated area and the process was facilitated by the availability of cheap labour for weeding. Hiring tractors was dependent on the profitability of cotton production and, at its peak in the early 1980s, it is estimated that 80% of households in Mvomero hired tractors. This proportion had halved by the close of the century.
Only one study site has experienced a sustained change in farm mechanisation. In Sanchitagi, Nigeria tractors are used by over 40% of the households and, due to the significantly larger areas cultivated by households using tractors than hoe cultivators, almost all of the land cultivated in the community is prepared by tractor. The ability of the private sector to follow through the government initiative to introduce tractor hire services has been a crucial factor in securing their sustained use. This was achieved by purposive state interventions such as extension agents encouraging the formation of farmer groups to purchase tractors, and the provision of subsidies on tractor purchases and credit sales. The community was also well located to take advantage of training for tractor drivers and tractor repair services. However, the substantial rise in prices for tractors and implements experienced in recent years is challenging the long term outlook for tractor power.
(ii) Phase of contraction
The majority (12) of the 14 communities covered in the study were unable to sustain the use of their new sources of farm power6. The contraction phase for tractors commenced in the early 1980s, 20 years or so after they had first been introduced into various communities. Generally DAP was used for a longer period but its collapse also started in the 1980s.
Decline in use of tractors
The decline in the use of tractors and tractor hire services was attributed to poor performance of the economy, weak infrastructure and poor management. Under government hire schemes, the area cultivated per machine was small, fixed costs were high, and the service was usually subsidised. The situation was often compounded by a lack of basic infrastructure to support mechanised technologies which resulted in expensive repairs, poor maintenance and repair facilities, and difficulties experienced in obtaining spare parts. Government support for tractor services proved unsustainable. From the 1980s (in Uganda and Zambia) through to the 1990s (in Ghana and Nigeria), government-operated hire schemes were closed and support for private sector tractor purchases and hire services gradually abolished.
Private sector providers were also afflicted by the challenging economic times of structural adjustment and currency devaluation. In Tanzania, tractor owners increased hire charges in order to cover the increased cost of imported items (machinery, fuel and spare parts). However, when coupled with low farm produce prices, many farmers were no longer able to afford hire services. The experiences in Nigeria were similar where, in the 1990s, there was more than a twentyfold increase in the cost of tractors and a tenfold increase in the cost of implements. In Ghana, it was estimated that tractor hire charges cover only 63% of the full economic cost for ploughing, representing an implicit subsidy from tractor owners to hirers of 37%.
Generally, the failure of tractor services resulted in the reduction of the area cultivated as communities reverted to draught animals and hand power. In some communities (Babatokuma in Ghana, and Mvomero and Msingisi in Tanzania) DAP was encouraged as a more sustainable and affordable option to tractor power for smallholder farmers. These initiatives were implemented through awareness campaigns, extension services, operator training, and loans supported by government, NGOs, universities and donor-funded projects (for example, IFAD and FAO).
Decline in use of DAP
The severe drought in Ethiopia from 1984 – 86 destroyed the livestock population in the southern highlands, while cattle diseases, particularly East Coast Fever (Theileriosis), decimated the livestock population on the plateau in southern Zambia and throughout Malawi. The impact of disease was compounded by an absence of appropriate animal health care facilities and practices. In addition, cattle thefts have been common in Zambia and Malawi, and cattle rustling by the Karamajong has been widespread in eastern Uganda. Poverty has also contributed to the decline of livestock numbers, with farmers selling cattle and implements in order to generate cash (as happened in Simupande, Zambia and Lodjwa, Malawi). With market liberalisation and the withdrawal of government credit to support the purchases of draught animals and implements, it is now more difficult for farmers to either establish, maintain or expand a DAP base.
Governments, NGOs and individuals have taken steps to restock certain areas. In Kacaboi, Uganda, the number of draught animals had fully recovered by 2000. In Zambia, the government introduced donkeys in Nteme as an alternative to oxen in the mid-1990s but donkeys are also in short supply and the area faces a critical shortage of DAP at present. At other sites, efforts have been made to help communities to adjust to their new power base. In Kokate Marachere, Ethiopia, NGOs, have introduced agricultural packages, including seeds and hand tools, to encourage farmers to cultivate their plots using hand tools rather than depending on DAP.
(iii) Technology developments
During the last century there have been two changes in farm hand tools: improvements in the quality of materials used to make the tools and increased diversity in the range of tools. Whilst all sites have experienced improvements in the basic range of tools, not all have been exposed to a wide range of hand tools. There tends to be more diversity at sites where hoe cultivation has been a predominant feature of the farm power system. Nevertheless, even in communities where developments and adaptations have taken place to better suit the range of hand tools to specific uses, hoes are invariably fitted with short wooden handles which affect the standing posture of users (Box 1).
‘Our postures and palms are different from the others. We can no longer stand up straight. Our palms always have sores and our fingers are curved instead of straight. There are aches and pains in our backs and using hand hoes causes pain and fatigue. Those of us using the hoe age faster than those using tractors. We can only work a little land at a time; hence we remain poor’.
Source: Ajibola and Sinkaiye, 2002
In contrast, there have been few changes in the technologies associated with the use of draught animals at the field sites. A persistent feature of DAP cultivation in the region has been its almost exclusive use for initial land preparation, despite numerous initiatives to broaden the range of operations performed by draught animals. The main implements are the mouldboard plough (or maresha in Ethiopia) and ox cart.
At the beginning of the twenty first century, on average, one third of households in the study communities rely entirely on family labour for this task but the figure can be as high as 70% (in Mwansambo, Malawi) (Table 1). At two sites in West Africa, hired labour rather than family labour is the primary power source. The use of draught animals is widespread, with only three sites in West Africa never having used them, largely due to the presence of the tsetse fly. Many households use their own animals but DAP hire is also important (used by 20% or more households in four communities). Tractor use is relatively low, with seven of the 14 sites not using tractors at all at present and only three making any substantial use of motorised power (Sanchitagi, Babatokuma and Mvomero). Tractors are usually hired because few people own them.
Three farm power systems have been identified for grouping communities according to the relative significance of humans, draught animals and tractors as power sources for primary tillage (as demonstrated in Table 1):
The relative proportion of households in a community using different power sources in these farm power systems is presented in Diagram 3. This classification provides the basis for the livelihoods analysis which is discussed below.
There are two distinct livelihood systems where humans are the principal power source for all farming operations. One group comprises five study communities in east and southern Africa which once derived most of their power from draught animals but have fallen back on family labour as the main source of power in recent decades. The second covers two communities in west Africa where there have traditionally been few opportunities for mechanisation due to the nature of the crops grown (root and tree crops) and hand power is an integral part of the farming system even among richer households.
There is a sharp contrast between the poverty and general depression associated with the predominantly hoe systems of eastern and southern Africa where DAP was once more important, and the hoe communities in west Africa which are quite vibrant and optimistic in outlook. In the former, the loss of cattle due to disease, drought, distress sale or theft, undermines the livelihood strategies for the whole community and has contributed to a drastic decline in agricultural production in these communities. Hoe cultivation has become commonplace, resulting in smaller areas under cultivation, reduced total output, reduced cash cropping, increased food insecurity, reduced farm incomes, and a higher incidence of poverty where households are unable to meet their basic needs from their own cash and in-kind resources. Communities are placed in extremely vulnerable positions and struggle to survive external shocks, such as the drought of late 2002. The gravity of the situation is exacerbated in communities where the labour base is also under threat due to schooling, migration, ill health or death (particularly due to HIV/AIDS). In the study communities in Malawi and Zambia, the capacity to cultivate land by whatever means, rather than access to land, is a significant constraint on production7.
In the west African communities, the loss of tractor hire services has also had a significant impact on agricultural activities but this has been tempered by substituting hired labour for tractors. The sustainability of this response strategy is dependent on the continued availability of hired labour at affordable prices and there are indications that, in the future, shortages of hired labour may compromise agricultural production. Again most households in these communities have access to land which they are unable to cultivate due to shortages of farm power.
The DAP system has long characterised farming in many parts of eastern and southern Africa. Draught animals are currently used by at least 10% of the households at 11 of the field sites; some sites made extensive use of DAP in the past but now derive a significant proportion of their farm power from family labour. Draught animals have never been used at three of the sites in west Africa where the natural habitat, tsetse fly, and farming systems are not well suited to DAP.
Within the communities where draught animals dominate primary tillage activities, there are two distinct sub-groups: one group where at least 50% of the community own their own draught animals and another where the majority of households hire DAP following the collapse of tractor hire services. In the former, DAP is an established feature of the farming system and is almost the sole source of power for land preparation. The most extreme example is Habru Seftu in the central highlands of Ethiopia where all the land is prepared by DAP and over 90% of households own draught animals. The community has no experience of tractors and there is no tradition of hoe cultivation on croplands.
Households with access to DAP derive significant benefits. They generally cultivate larger areas than hoe cultivators, realise greater yields, improve household food security, and produce a marketable surplus. However, the ability to reap the full benefits of using DAP for cultivating a larger area than is possible by family labour is only achievable where there is an abundance of labour within the community, especially for weeding.
DAP is increasingly being perceived and promoted by governments and donors as a more sustainable farm power option than tractor-based systems. Draught animals enable households to reap some of the benefits of improved land preparation without the need to accrue a substantial amount of capital to purchase a tractor or to be dependent on tractor hire services. However, draught animal owners require specialist skills and a supporting infrastructure – albeit at a more modest level than that required by tractor ownership. Neither is DAP a panacea: its application is curtailed by the presence of tsetse fly; by poor soils and steep slopes where deeper tillage may contribute to soil erosion; by small plots; and by partially-cleared fields. DAP households are very vulnerable to the effects of personal misfortune and natural calamities. It is all too easy for DAP communities to revert to hoe cultivation because of livestock disease, cattle theft, and the loss of assets principally due to poverty, illness and death of key household members. Their ability to recover is frustrated by a shortage of healthy animals, a lack of credit, and the poor profitability of agriculture.
Tractors are a significant source of power in three communities (used by more than 35% of the households). This group comprises one community with a relatively high proportion of tractor ownership and two communities where land preparation is dominated by tractor hire services. A significant proportion of households in these communities relies on hoe cultivation, more so than in communities where DAP is the dominant power source. Tractors are also used at four other sites but on a modest scale (by 10% of the households or less). Some communities used tractors in the past but the services proved unsustainable and they have resorted to hoe cultivation and DAP. None of the sites in Ethiopia and Malawi have used tractors, although hire services are available elsewhere in those countries.
Tractor owners represent the commercial face of farming, using their strong asset-based wealth (which is often derived from off-farm activities) to purchase inputs such as improved seeds, fertilizer and pesticides. They pay more attention to cash crop production, either in addition to, or substituting them for, food crops. Their wealth and role as employers enables them to provide a social net for others in the community who are in a less secure position.
The benefits of using tractors for primary tillage is broadly similar to that reaped when using DAP (in terms of the area cultivated, timely and thorough land preparation, and weed control); although the scale of operation is significantly increased. Likewise the benefits are dependent on the availability of labour for subsequent operations and the availability of land for increasing the area under cultivation. To date, neither appears to have acted as a constraint on production. Indeed the opportunity to earn cash or food through hiring out their labour and land is an essential survival strategy for many hoe cultivators. However, the fieldwork suggests that labour in many communities is becoming scarce as a result of education, migration, ill health and death, and some farmers are travelling to neighbouring communities to hire labourers. Labour shortages may constrain production in the future.
The viability of tractor power is highly dependent on the profitability of agriculture and the availability and effectiveness of the supporting infrastructure. Under conditions of low farm profitability, the outlook for extensive tractor use must be marginal. Despite the benefits derived from tractor ownership, owners find it difficult to maintain tractors in an operational state, due to the weak infrastructure for repairs and maintenance, and the expense. Demand for hire services is falling in many communities where farmers are unable to afford the full economic cost of ploughing or transporting. In some communities, owners are not replacing their tractors and in others, former owners have sold their tractors and have reverted to using draught animals.
This section discusses some of the key features of farm power systems.
The household asset base lies at the heart of the farm power system and is a major determinant of livelihood outcomes (for further details see Bishop-Sambrook, 2004b). Household composition and group membership determine the labour available for farm work. The education, skills and off-farm employment experiences of the household head are often associated with specific power sources. Savings, remittances and access to credit determine a household’s ability to purchase and maintain tools, draught animals, tractors and implements, and hire farm power services. Social assets play a vital role in enabling poorer households to address their farm power constraints. Some households tackle farm power shortages on an individual basis through reciprocal labour or by pooling their draught animals and implements. Others draw strength by working in groups to improve their motivation; some groups also include a welfare dimension offering assistance to members in time of need.
Households using farm power technologies other than a hoe gain considerable advantages in terms of the area cultivated, total yields achieved, levels of drudgery, and opportunities to redeploy family labour in non-farm activities. Households owning draught animals or tractors for primary tillage in arable crop production systems (and hiring labour or using reciprocal groups for subsequent operations) are more food secure than others. Households relying on family labour for all their farming needs survive at the margin of subsistence. Households headed by women tend to be over-represented amongst this group, partly as a result of the loss of assets typically associated with widowhood, and consequently are often amongst the poorest in a community.
Within communities, hoe cultivators play a pivotal role in enabling tractor owners and hirers and, to a lesser extent, DAP owners realise the benefits of mechanising land preparation (Diagram 4). They rent out their land which enables households using tractors in particular, to significantly increase their area under cultivation. They also hire out their labour which is vital for all operations following land preparation, none of which has been mechanised. In return, hoe cultivators receive inputs from tractor owners which are essential for their survival: cash, food during the hungry months, and seeds on loan. Tractor owners may also assist those hiring their tractors by enabling them to pay in kind after harvest rather than in cash at the time of ploughing. Similar arrangements exist between DAP owners and hirers. Thus the presence of tractors or draught animals can have a multiplier effect on activities within a community and their owners may act as social safety nets for poorer households.
Governments traditionally played a pivotal role in introducing new sources of farm power to communities through providing information, developing the skills of operators, subsidising inputs and credit, supporting veterinary services, and operating tractor hire schemes. These activities were usually linked to the promotion of cash crops. In line with government withdrawal from many areas of economic activity, most of the activities associated with supporting the use of tractors, such as the supply of equipment, and repairs and maintenance services, occur in the private sector. The only significant exception is operator and technician training which sometimes takes place in the public sector (Ghana and Uganda). In contrast, DAP still enjoys strong and widespread government support in many countries through extension and training (Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia), and restocking (Uganda), complemented by NGO activities. Often the promotion of DAP is linked to initiatives to promote sustainable farming practices, such as reduced tillage and conservation agriculture in eastern and southern Africa.
Whilst government has often acted as the catalyst, the ability of the private sector to follow through these initiatives is essential for their sustainable use. This is in terms of both private purchases of DAP and tractors by individuals and groups, and also the service sector. Without a skilled and well-equipped supporting infrastructure, existing DAP and tractor owners are extremely vulnerable to the withdrawal of government support, as was demonstrated in the final two decades of the twentieth century. Similarly, the absence of an enabling policy environment curtails initiatives by would-be adopters, particularly given the weak state of agricultural profitability.
The significance of a coherent infrastructure to support technology use is demonstrated in the distances travelled to access tools, implements and repair services. Hand tools and DAP implements are generally available within the immediate locality, acquired from local markets and trading centres, although specialist items of equipment, such as sprayers, are often only available at regional centres. On average farmers travel between 5 – 35 km to buy hand tools, 10 – 60 km for draught animals and implements, and 85 – 300 km to purchase tractors, implements and spare parts (see Diagram 5).
To date, most of the benefits of mechanisation, in the form of draught animals or tractors, are largely confined to primary tillage and transport. Hence, the full potential of farm mechanisation for improving the quality of life through reducing the drudgery of farm work and contributing to sustainable livelihoods has yet to be realised.
There are four main reasons why the benefits from mechanisation have been limited:
HIV/AIDS is one of major challenges facing the agricultural sector in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In eastern and southern Africa, the disease has already starting impacting the agricultural sector: it is estimated at least 70% of the total losses experienced by the workforce by 2000 were borne by agriculture. This picture is expected to continue for the foreseeable future: all five study countries in eastern and southern Africa are expected to lose between 10 - 20% of their agricultural workforce to HIV/AIDS by 2020.
When a key household member falls ill with AIDS, the implications for family labour are substantial. During the protracted illness, a household suffers not only from the loss of labour of the sick person but also of the carer. This has implications for working their own land, casual labouring, earning non-farm income, and the opportunity to participate in reciprocal labour groups (which are often essential for the survival of hand power and DAP households). After death, the household loses the labour and skills of the deceased. There are also implications for other components of the farm power asset base. The need to raise money for medical treatment and funerals may trigger distress sales of draught animals and implements. Draught animals may be slaughtered to observe rituals. The loss of a husband/father can result in property grabbing by his relatives, including displacement from the family land and home, due to cultural norms, a lack of knowledge about property rights, and weak enforcement mechanisms.
In the absence of widespread adoption of alternative cropping systems and practices, improved access to farm power for primary tillage and subsequent cropping activities (in particular, weeding) will be vital to overcome the labour constraints which are arising as a result of the impact of HIV/AIDS. However, addressing the primary tillage component alone will not bring substantial advantages in terms of household food security and other livelihood outcomes due to the limited benefits of partial mechanisation noted above.
The keys to spontaneous and sustainable farm power mechanisation are the returns to investment in agriculture and the condition of the wider economy. To enable farmers to undertake the risk of investing in new sources of farm power, they need to be able to recoup the costs of the investment through adequate returns, either through their own production or hiring their services to others. This, however, is not the case in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa today. Prices for principal agricultural commodities are low, access to international markets for value-added products restricted, the internal demand for staple foods is generally static, and market linkages are weak.
Although many countries have sizeable and growing urban populations, they lack the effective demand to provide a catalyst for agricultural development. A large percentage of these urban populations are also poor and they require low cost staple foods. Nevertheless, in some countries in the region, rising incomes are stimulating demand for higher quality products (particularly animal products) which offers opportunities for diversification of agricultural production. Moreover, the domestic market for many staple products, such as maize, wheat and oilseeds, is disrupted by cheap (sometimes subsidised) supplies from abroad.
In the absence of a concerted effort by government, NGOs and the donor community to intervene to address some of the vulnerabilities of various farm power systems, it is likely that communities where the farm power base has already been damaged (such as the former DAP communities in Ethiopia, Malawi and Zambia) will face a continuing state of collapse. The recovery of the DAP-base is not feasible technically in Kokate Marachere, Ethiopia due to the population pressure on land. In Malawi and Zambia it is very likely, given the high incidence of HIV/AIDS in these countries, that the livelihoods in the mixed hand power-DAP communities will deteriorate further as AIDS takes a heavy toll on the agricultural workforce.
The extent to which the other communities are able to maintain their existing farm power base and possibly achieve further mechanisation (including mechanisation beyond primary tillage), will depend on the state of their economies and supporting infrastructure, the profitability of farming, and the buoyancy of the rural non-farm economy. Opportunities for agricultural growth may exist in countries where per capita incomes are reasonably high and growing (such as Ghana and Uganda), there is effective demand for agricultural produce from a sizeable urban population (Nigeria), and an effective supporting infrastructure (Tanzania). However, farmers need security (such as land tenure and good governance), the confidence to invest in agriculture and the means with which to do so. The process of farm power mechanisation could act as a catalyst if it reduces costs and improves returns to investment in agriculture. This may lead to a more commercially-orientated agricultural sector which is more competitive on international markets.
For households entirely reliant on their own labour, it is difficult to move beyond subsistence agriculture in arable crop production systems. These farmers will need alternative enterprises which are suited to their labour resources, such as animal products or small-scale commercial vegetable production, or opportunities for redeployment in the non-farm sector.
The activities discussed below focus on opportunities to improve the contribution of farm power to smallholder livelihoods. They represent only one aspect of an integrated response which may be implemented over different time periods. In the immediate and short term, priority is placed on protecting livelihoods through reducing the vulnerability and ensuring the survival of households most at risk from losing their farm power assets. In the medium to longer term, the profitability of agriculture is vital if farm power mechanisation is to contribute to enhancing livelihoods.
The first priority is to enable the most vulnerable households, such as those headed by widows and orphans, to survive in the short term by addressing their most pressing time constraints, including household tasks, with immediate solutions:
Once the immediate needs of the most vulnerable households have been met, the next priority is to ensure the farm power asset base remains intact and not depleted during times of crisis:
Once the asset base is secure, the next step is to maximise the potential of existing power sources:
Managing the power requirements of the farming system:
Extending the range of uses of existing power sources:
A longer term activity is to support households and communities as they adopt new sources of farm power. Households may switch to draught animals or motorized power for primary tillage, either through hiring or owning them. They may also mechanize other operations, such as small-scale irrigation (treadle and engine-driven pumps, and sprinkler and drip systems), crop harvesting, food processing and value adding activities.
1Further copies of this paper may be downloaded from http://www.fao.org/sd/dim_pe4/pe4_040902_en.htm
2Consultant, Agricultural and Food Engineering Technologies Service, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org). The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FAO.
3Out of 11 study sites which used DAP, only one community used DAP for weeding; and out of seven communities using tractors, only one farmer used a planter. None of the study sites included formal irrigation schemes and only two communities had groups using treadle pumps.
4The in-country studies were undertaken by national consultants – see references. The study was initiated and overseen by Lawrence Clarke (Agricultural Engineering Group of AGST) and the implementation coordinated by Josef Kienzle.
5The 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) since both pose natural constraints to mechanised farming; the pastoral system; and smallholders in large scale irrigation schemes.
6The two exceptions are Habru Seftu, Ethiopia where DAP has long been the sole source of power; and Sanchitagi, Nigeria – see section above.
7At one site in Ethiopia (Kokate Marachere), intense population pressure means that land availability is also a constraint.
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