Small scale farming – Mechanization

View of a farm in africa. Half is already harvested.

The world population will grow from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion in just 34 years from now, 100 million more persons than was estimated in the United Nations’ estimate of 2014. At least 50% of this growth will stem from Africa whose population is expected to double to 2.5 billion. Nigeria’s population would be over 400 million and the DRC and Ethiopia would rise to almost 200 million each.

While many advances in technology has, and will increase the yield in the traditional commercial agricultural countries, Africa is the only continent with excess capacity of arable soil as well as large water resources which are presently not fully utilised.

In fact, available African arable land represents an amazing 60% of world arable soil, according to “The Economist” most of which is offering negligible yields. While African agricultural output has risen fourfold since 1961, in line with India, it has been mainly due to cultivation of new land and yields have remained poor. An increased 800,000 square kilo meters of arable land has been added to the 1.5 million under cultivation in 1960 in sub-Saharan Africa according to the UN.

Many factors including geological (water, soil fertility), technological (seeds, fertiliser, farming practice), political (corruption, subsidies and lack thereof, taxes, restrictions), commercial (lack of credit and capital, marketing skills, transport, market structures) etc. are to blame. However Africa would need to develop its agriculture in a hopefully harmonious blend between two options:

  1. Higher productivity due to commercial large scale farming with (forced?) removals and other social consequences which may limit the extent politically. In some countries widespread discontent with resettlement of small farmers to create room of large commercial projects disturbs local, tribal and eventually national politics. Large scale agriculture should lay the cornerstone of an awakening, creating infrastructure, building dams, establishing storage, providing access and a local market for seed and fertiliser with spin-offs to the small scale farmer.
  2. Enhancement of the productivity of the small scale grain farmer through sustainable (read affordable as further described below) mechanisation based on no-till farming methods, improved seed supply (a resolution of the GMO and “Round-up ready” debate and development of high yielding varieties are the key aspects), proper application of herbicides, extension services, fertiliser application (an average of only 15kg fertiliser per hectare is used in Africa vs 150kg globally excluding Africa*), formalising of the market with futures, (allowing a better return for the farmer), negotiable warehouse receipts / silo certificates, mixed farming strategies, positive political involvement, de-regulation of the market and in cases regulation such as grading rules, fumigation, correct storage, drying etc. and those two all-important levers to get the ship into the water – credit and insurance – at decent terms and rates.

Various government programs, NGO’s and foreign assistance project focus on some of these bigger issues while agricultural engineering and mechanisation at the footsole level is often wanting.

A photo of a few rural farming people in Africa

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