Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Giving power to African farmers

This article has been extracted from the latest issue of the newsletter produced by the Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC). The AIFSC is a centre within ACIAR. You can subscribe to receive AIFSC newsletters directly.  
A female farmer using two-wheel tractor fitted with a
Chinese-designed conservation agriculture planter.
Photo credit CIMMYT

While farmers in the rest of the world have seen the power available to them increase dramatically over the past decades, for most African farmers it has stagnated, and often declined. Indeed, the numbers of tractors and draught animals on the continent have decreased, making back-breaking manual work a main feature of African agriculture. 

The burden of agriculture is mainly placed on women. All this hard manual work also makes agriculture unattractive to the youth.

A project funded by the Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC), a centre within ACIAR, is bringing to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe the technologies that transformed the Bangladeshi agriculture: cheap, easy to operate, easy to maintain two-wheel tractors. Although these small tractors are not powerful enough to plough, they can be fitted with seeders adapted to plant directly in an unploughed field. This practice – known as “conservation agriculture” - saves time and fuel and protects the soil from erosion. In addition, two-wheel tractors are very versatile: they can be fitted to a trailer and used for transport of inputs and produce, they can also be used as a stationary source of power and be fitted to a variety of ancillary equipment including water pumps, wheat threshers and maize shellers.

A two-wheel tractor fitted with an Australian-designed
conservation agriculture planter.
Photo credit CIMMYT
The project will improve farm productivity by increasing the area one farm can cultivate, and by allowing critical operations to be performed on time. It will reduce the cost of production, and therefore increase profitability of farming. It will release family labour from field activities to other more rewarding and income-generating activities. It will also create employment, for example for fuel supply and the repair of the tractors.
Walk-behind two-wheel tractors could play a key role in improving food security and reducing rural poverty in Africa.
A private service provider in north Tanzania.
Photo credit: CIMMYT
But the project is of course not about providing a tractor to each farming family in the targeted areas. Inspired by Bangladesh, where only one out of every 30 users owns a tractor, the project will stimulate the creation of custom hiring services provided by rural entrepreneurs. For the impact of the project to be sustained, agribusinesses will also be encouraged to participate actively, and invest time and resources in the promotion of the machines, in training and in accessing credit facilities. In fact, the project is much more about developing commercial models to deliver tractor services to smallholder farmers than it is about merely testing and demonstrating the machines.

The project was launched on the 25th of March in Arusha, Tanzania and is being and led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). It will run over four years, demonstrating the critical role small mechanisation can play in improving farm productivity, freeing women from back-breaking manual labor and creating rural employment.

By Project Leader Dr Frédéric Baudron, CIMMYT

More information

ACIAR Project FSC/2012/047 Farm power and conservation agriculture for sustainable intensification (FACASI)

6-minute video: Blessings from the Field - The life of a poor Bangladeshi family has been transformed through the purchase of a planter to contract to farmers for conservation agriculture. The family, who once lived in poverty, now run a successful business, and are financially secure.  It's a heartwarming tale of success.

4-minute video: A fine balance - The 'versatile multi-crop planter' has been developed to help smallholder farmers in Bangladesh save on labour costs.  Contractors are using the machine to plant crops using conservation agriculture techniques.

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