What needs to be done to give Africa’s smallholder farmers access to machinery

Agricultural machinery manufacturing has been growing on increased demand in domestic market. But in the absence of industry-specific policy, sustainability of the trend looks uncertain.

From tractors and front-end loaders to wheat and maize thrashers to potato diggers, there is a long list of machines that are produced locally. Refurbishing of old, imported ginning and rice mills is also not uncommon.

“But there’s no exclusive policy package for this industry,” says a Punjab-based agricultural machinery manufacturer. “We want improved supply of electricity, some tax incentives and cooperation from government agencies to help consolidate this sector.”

The use of solar technology is catching up among growers across the country and solar-powered tubewells and electricity-generating panels have been a great relief in recent years for a number of progressive farmers. Faisalabad’s Agriculture University is trying to develop solar-powered machine for drying of crops, distillation of essential oils and roasting of nuts. So, a craving for mechanisation on modern lines is there, but a policy push is needed to capitalise on it.

Unfortunately, though, in our context “mechanisation concept doesn’t go beyond the use of tractors,” laments a former director general of agricultural extension services of Sindh. “Hundreds of farm machines and implements are being produced locally. And over past few years, their production has picked up. Some of them are also being exported. But it’s difficult to track the trend.”

Data shows that production of tractors is done in large-scale manufacturing sector. Production of sugarcane machines, wheat thrashers and chaff cutters is offcially recorded.. However, stats on production and sales of multipurpose thrashers, potato diggers, soil levelers, pit diggers, tiller drills, water sprinklers and several other agricultural machines are barely available.

Farmers, benefited by higher support prices of key crops in recent years, are believed to have invested a good amount of money in mechanisation of their farming activities.

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