Making Mechanization Accessible to Smallholder Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa

FAO/AGP Division provided keynote address and contributed to Synthesis Report of above meeting that was convened by the Billl & Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2015 in Beijing, China

In October 2015, an international gathering of people involved in smallholder mechanization issues took place in Beijing, China; the meeting was convened by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Grand Challenges program of the Foundation engages innovators from around the world to solve the most pressing challenges in global health and development. The Beijing meeting included, amongst many crucial health themes, a track on accessible mechanization for smallholder farmers. The emphasis of the meeting was on development for Africa and, in particular, three focus countries selected by the Foundation: Nigeria, Tanzania and Ghana. There was a strong representation from China to describe their country’s strategy for smallholder mechanization, and its relevance for development in Africa. There were also important international delegations from the private sector farm machinery industry, from research and development (R&D) organizations (especially the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR)) and United Nations (UN) institutions (Food and Agriculture Organization—FAO, and the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization (CSAM) of the UN-Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)), and African national organizations, amongst many others.

Farm power and mechanization are agricultural production inputs that will be essential to raise the labor and land productivity required if Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 (ending poverty and hunger) are to be achieved. The smallholder farm sector demand for mechanization needs to be raised to stimulate the product value chain and activate input supply (that is to raise farm productivity, stimulate value addition, and encourage private sector custom hire service provision). The sustainability of mechanization from a natural resource conservation point of view is discussed with reference to conservation agriculture principles. Mechanization appropriate for the smallholder sector covers the range of possible power sources human, draft animal and motorized. The key is to engage all the stakeholders in the supply chain and offer a range of suitable options from which the user can select. Sustainability of mechanization includes financial and social, as well as environmental factors. Local manufacturers should be supported where feasible as they can provide implements and machines adapted to local conditions—and better technical service and replacement part supply. The public sector role in providing access to mechanization should be restricted to promulgating enabling policies, building technical and business management skills and stimulating demand. The lessons to be learnt from Chinese experience in making mechanization available to smallholder farmers include subsidies, strong extension services, infrastructure development and a solid manufacturing sector that prioritizes the smallholder sector. The implications for sub-Saharan Africa appear to be that group ownership and custom hire service provision are the models to follow. Finally, the relevance of an African Center for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization, on the model of CSAM in Beijing, is considered and recommended.

Core Themes