Human muscle-power alone can no longer feed Africa's growing population Farmers will have to mechanize or food production will continue to fail to keep up with population growth,
Mechanization does not mean simply the introduction of tractors (tractorization), it includes the improvement of all tools and equipment used in agriculture from clearing and cultivating the land to planting, harvesting and also transport, storage and processing. To be cost-effechve, mechanization must be appropriate to the varying conditions of different regions and even localities.
It was to discuss appropriate mechanization in its many forms and options that representatives of 19 African countries (see end of report) met in Brussels, Belgium, 13-17 February 1990. Also present for this Euro-African Congress on Agricultural Mechanization were representatives of relevant organizations in several EC countries including Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. This Congress was a meeting of EC-ACP experts with complementary needs and experience. It was organised by the Belgian Federation of Agricultural and horticultural Equipment (UGEXPO) in collaboration with CTA, the Euro-African Association of Centres for Agricultural Mechanization (ACEMA) and the Belgian Agency for Development Cooperation, and with the support of the Commission of European Communities.
Speakers at the opening, from Africa and Europe, stressed that in most of Africa cultivation is still largely by traditional methods and that these methods alone will not be able to meet the increasing demand for food in the immediate future. "In most countries 70-80% of our population remains in agriculture but food production is still insufficient", said Mr Abdel Rahman, Director of the African Regional Centre for Engineering Design and Manufacturing (ARCEDEM) which is based in Ibadan, Nigeria. The call for appropriate mechanization and the necessary training to operate and maintain equipment was taken up by the President of the Euro-African Association of Centres for Agricultural Mechanization (ACEMA), Mr Ela Evina. ACEMA is based in Yaounde, Cameroon. Mr Evina also raised the point that improved tools and equipment must not only be appropriate for the conditions they must be affordable.
Economic research has shown that farmers can afford to spend only about 15% of their annual income (two months' production) on equipment purchase. No matter how good or desirable new machinery is, if it is too expensive it will not be purchased. Therefore mechanization presupposes a good market for produce since unless farmers can sell at a profit they will have no cash to mechanize. This point was made by Mr lan Johnson of Britain's Agricultural Food and Research Council Engineering (AFRC) and he went on to warn against assuming that mechanization (particularly tractorization) will necessarily increase yields. "Most serious trials show that you cannot beat good hand cultivation", he said. He went on to suggest that post-emergence weeding was usually the most significant factor affecting yields and this is difficult to achieve with machines in mixed crops and almost impossible if machinery has to be hired. Timing of weeding operations is critical and Mr Johnson suggested that to help in cultivation, agricultural engineers should concentrate their efforts on improving the design of hand tools and animal draft equipment.
A delegate from Zaire reported that trials with animal draft had not proved successful after two years and had been abandoned. This was considered too short a period by several delegates, who felt that trials must be continued for much longer,especially where there was little or no livestock tradition among the rural people. Mr Charles Mwanda, Director of Kenya's Agricultural Machinery Testing and Development Institute, Nakuru, said that he was very sad to hear of the Zaire experience and decision because he believed that animal traction gave farmers the chance to increase production, generate income and up-lift their standard of living before they attempted the next stage of cultivation, which was motorized mechanization. "There's no way a farmer is going to jump from hand mechanization to the tractor unless he has the means, which is the money to do so", said Mr Mwanda.
Improving animal traction
To plough one hectare a farmer and his draft animals must walk nearly 50 kilometres and any improvement in design of tools and harness will improve efficiency of man and animals. Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have all concentrated on this sector and Zimbabwe has sent agricultural staff to Kenya to learn about improved harnesses. There is a shortage of draft animals in Zimbabwe due to competition for land and overgrazing in some areas. A farmer with only one draft animal has been considered draft-powerless, because with existing harnesses it was not possible to use one animal New harness technology brought back from Kenya has helped overcome this constraint and now single animals are being used in Zimbabwe for operations that do not require too much power.
Kenya, said Mr Mwanda, had developed many of their ideas by modifying old European designs of harness and draft equipment. Local fibres and fabric are used in harnesses instead of European rope and canvas and European tools are made lighter to ease the load on draft animals faced with breaking up hard, dry soil. Where necessary, the width of cut on ploughs was reduced and cultivators made less wide. There were a lot of designs, now outdated in Europe, which could be adapted for Africa, concluded Mr Mwanda, adding that there was no point in re-inventing the wheel
From Senegal, Mr Birame Fall pointed to the widespread and successful manufacture of simple equipment for light cultivation in workshops in many West African countries including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d'lvoire, Mali, Senegal and Togo. However, lack of standardization has resulted in a proliferation of designs and specifications which makes production and procurement of spare parts a very serious problem. He suggested that ARCEDEM should coordinate the streamlining and standardization of designs. This would include minimum specifications for type' of steel to avoid the all too common experience of plough-shares made from unsuitable steel wearing out after only two or three hours of work, and equipment twisting under the slightest stress.
For larger, more complicated machinery which carries high development costs, the potential market has to be wiser than or nation. It is here that regional cooperation through such associations as ARCEDEM and ACEMA is essential to achieve standardization. And standardization brings with it economies of scale. Too often in the past individual nations have developed their own design specifications resulting in too many machines being available for one job/ process, all requiring their own spare parts, in a market that is too small. Regional cooperation could lead to different countries specializing in different equipment. (This sounds utopian: the reality is more likely to be a desire on the part of each nation to be the one with the manufacturing base selling to all its neighbours.) Governments must agree on a realistic level of cross border tax levies since high taxes on spare parts will discourage proper maintenance.
The Euro-African Association of Centres for Agricultural Mechanization was established to develop cooperation between European and African centres in the field of agricultural engineering, to exchange information on research, testing and development of agricultural machinery and to provide advice to countries wishing to develop agricultural engineering centres.
Tractorization has a role
Tractors can cope easily with hard soil and their use results in timely cultivation and the infiltration of valuable rainfall. But there are four major limitations to their widespread use: high purchase cost, small farm sizes, inadequate skills in operation and maintenance, and lack of spare parts.
Agricultural engineers have to realize that appropriate technology is not necessarily simple technology. A battery started engine that is incapable of hand staffing will soon cease to be useful if there is no readily available power source to recharge the battery. Spare parts must be easily and quickly available and stored efficiently. It has been found that up to 15% of spare parts may be unusable through bad storage which has led to corrosion and other damage. Maintenance input must be kept low and simple or running costs can be ruinous.
There have been calls for smaller, and therefore less expensive, tractors and even for two-wheel cultivators or power-tillers. However, while small tractors and single axle machines have proved successful in Asia where soils are frequently irrigated, they are usually inappropriate in Africa. It takes a full-sized tractor to cope with the often hard, dry conditions in Africa and, unfortunately, the bigger the tractor the better it does the work.
One option for farmers with sufficient resources is to buy a tractor and to hire it out on a contract basis to his neighbours. This has proved very successful in Kenya but it is essential that land is cleared of all rocks and tree-stumps or the cost of breakages and punctures will easily exceed hire costs. Tractor-hire units run by the government have also been tried, with varying success. Now in Zimbabwe the government is running a pilot scheme to monitor the effectiveness of communal ownership of tractors.
Nokazi Moyo is Engineer-in-charge of the Farm Machinery Mechanization Department of Zimbabwe's Institute of Agricultural Engineering and he admits to positive and negative results to-date. "On the positive side we have proved without any reasonable doubt that it is possible to run profitably a tractor mechanization cooperative", he says. "The negative side is the management input needed for all the records that have to be kept for work done, where the tractor is to go next and the servicing needed. This is above the heads of most of the people in our communal areas. They have to have the basic skills to read and write, basic maths and to have some management judgment to take decisions on priorities". Also the time taken to carry out record keeping and to manage the efficient use of a tractor is time which small farmers cannot afford to sacrifice. The training of operators and maintenance engineers is another major challenge and many delegates to the Congress felt that tractor manufacturers should provide more training as a component of their sales service.
Post-harvest mechanization can provide the best return on investment for farmers with limited funds. There was agreement on this between African and European experts, who felt that there was opportunity for a twofold increase in rural income through reducing post-harvest losses and by adding value to produce prior to its sale. "Losses after harvest can range from 5 to 30%", said Mr Haruna Musa, Director of the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanization (NCAM), Nigeria. "If some engineering input could reduce these losses", he added, "it would go a long way towards increasing productivity in the country".
Losses occur during transportation from the field to store; when crops are threshed or shelled; during storage; and when stores are emptied and produce is conveyed from store to transport vehicle. Better carts, threshing and shelling machines, and conveyors would help reduce this largely unnecessary wastage. "Local processing can reduce transport cost, reduce wastage and increase the value of the crop, increasing the returns to the farmer, and at the same time bring work to the village", said Ian Johnson. Recognizing this, NCAM at Ilorin, Nigeria and Ghana's University of Science and Technology at Kumasi have developed or improved cassava and groundnut lifters, groundnut shellers, sugar cane crushers, gari making equipment and conveyors for grain and other produce.
Cooperation is next step
There was general agreement that there will be no progress towards successful agricultural mechanization unless policy- makers and governments in Africa give it priority. Ideally, national Agricultural Mechanization Committees should be set up to advise on national policies and to liaise through ACEMA with similar bodies in Africa and Europe. Meanwhile, European governments (possibly through the EC) could assist by helping to fund ACEMA and by encouraging European manufacturers to make available designs for equipment no longer in production. And both African and European partners in this endeavour must put much more emphasis on training and communication at all stages of the mechanization process.
Opening the congress, Mr Robert Dellere Head of CTA's Technical Division, outlined CTA's role in communication between EC and ACP countries and this Congress, in which CTA collaborated, provided a much needed forum for exchange of views. In hi statement he said that a main conclusion a this Euro-African Congress on Agricultural Mechanization may be aptly summarized by the observation that while mechanization of agriculture is indispensable to Africa, and may benefit from European experience, it must be adapted for Africa and not modelled on Europe.
The following African countries were represented: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi Cameroon, Congo, Cote d'lvoire, Ghana Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Madagascar Malawi, Mali Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan Tanzania, Zaire, Zimbabwe. I
See also Spore No.18 "Animal power: outdate or underestimated?"
The Paris Agricultural Show assistance for African exhibitors
Every year Paris becomes the centre of the world of agricultural machinery. For ten days In March, the Paris Agricultural Show attract-s many thousands of visitors. Like its other European counterparts, the Show is a show case of technical progress in such areas as heavy agricultural machinery, computerization, agricultural biotechnologies and high performance stock breeds. Everything on display leads the visitor to the conclusion that world agriculture is In a state of constant evolution and growth. But the Paris show is also a meeting point for the countries of the South. For many years now the organizers, together with the Centre d'Etude et d'Experimentation du Machinisme Agricols/Centre for tropical agricultural machinery research and experimentation (CEEMAT), have made a point of exhibiting not only equipment which is specifically geared to the needs of tropical countries, but also equipment produced by those countries themselves. Among the 27 exhibitors on the 'tropical platform, was SISMAR, a Senegalese company which makes ploughs, planters and cultivators suited to all of the Soudano Sahelian zones. By giving such manufacturers the chance to display their products, the organizers hope to boost the African presence, both francophone and anglophone. A CEEMAT spokesman said at the show: 'What we are demonstrating here is that there is a technical solution to everything, even for Africa s unique farming systems, and with low-cost yet reliable equipment. However, it must be said that state investment in agriculture is in decline, and we can no longer count on private African Investors to risk their capital.
Potential participants in the 1991 Paris Agricultural Show should contact:
M Prince, CEEMAT
Parc de Tourvoie
92160, Antony, FRANCE