Africa: UN Supports Small-scale Mechanisation In Agriculture

By Akanimo Sampson

An agency of the United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is organising regional and national training workshops to support small-scale mechanisation in the agricultural sector of Africa.

The global body is also supporting national governments to develop strategies based on the FAO/ African Union Commission (AUC) Framework for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanisation in Africa.    

One of the messages that emerged during the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7) held in Yokohama, Japan was that agriculture is crucial to Africa’s development but needs increased mechanisation to boost economic productivity, reduce harvest and post-harvest losses and meet growing demand for food.Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest area of uncultivated arable land but productivity lags far behind other developing regions. Yields are only around half of the international average, far below the growth levels needed to keep pace with food demand driven by population growth. Mechanization can dramatically improve the yield gap.

At a TICAD7 side-event hosted by the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD), a framework for sustainable agricultural mechanization in Africa was presented by the AUC and the FAO.

At the event, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said in his speech, “through appropriate mechanisation, small scale farming can be transformed into a more market-oriented business, improving labour productivity and helping enable farmers to lift themselves out of poverty. To achieve this, we need to enhance access to mechanisation services.”Adding, the FAO boss said, “we need to relieve farmers of hard manual labour, particularly women, who have the double burden of working in the fields as well as caring for their households.”

However, the framework, which was launched last year and is gaining traction in the region, aims to help countries replace antiquated tools with modern mechanisation methods to achieve food security, agricultural development and overall economic growth.

It sets out priority elements for national mechanisation strategies, including learning from other parts of the world where significant transformation of the agricultural sector has already occurred within a three-to-four decade timeframe, and supports the development of policies and programmes to realise Africa’s goals.
Mechanisation in the 21st century can provide much-needed support to the entire agricultural value chain. Driven by the private sector, mechanisation should be environmentally-competitive, climate-smart, economically viable and affordable, especially to small-scale farmers who constitute the bulk of African farmers. It should also target youth specifically to make agriculture more attractive for employment and entrepreneurship.

Full mechanisation along the value chain includes enhancing access to mechanisation services, improving access to quality and affordable inputs, such as seed and fertilizer, delivering efficient water resources management systems including irrigation, and reducing harvest and post-harvest losses through threshing, drying, and storing, adding value through milling, processing and packaging, and improving market access through transportation.