Africa should discard handheld hoe driven agriculture

Farmers complain of fatigue and backache because of needing to bend over while digging using handled hoe – it’s an antiquated tool. (Photo courtesy – AUF)

Is Africa on the right path in its drive to attaining sustainable development or the continent is simply on the side ways watching western and Asian countries using her abundance natural resources like arable lands, minerals, forestry, and fishery resources in further advancing their already developed economies?

On my recent agricultural tour to Kenya’s Rift Valley province, I met hundreds of farmers with reasonable chunks of land which they are not effectively utilizing simply because they lack machines like tractors, irrigation equipment, and to many of them, accessing improved quality seeds and fertilizers.

 “My son, I have 42 acres of land which I and my seven children cannot effectively utilize using hand hoes. We appeal to the government to buy for us tractors and good quality seeds to enable us produce enough food for our families and for sale to get money and better our livelihood,” said Stephen Kimutai, one of the farmers I interviewed during my fact finding tour.

This is a wish of millions of African farmers who have for decades been and are still trapped in poverty cycle simply because they are engaged in hand hoe driven agriculture that has resulted into low farm yields and therefore making it difficult for these farmers to produce enough food to sustain the ever growing population.

In many of the farming communities I have been to in Africa, especially in areas where farmers’ farms are small and highly fragmented, the farmers I talked to are willing to fully cooperate and combine their farms on terms set by them to make it possible for tractors and irrigation use if their governments buy for them tractors and irrigation equipment.

An analysis of Global Development trends for agricultural transformation indicates that globally, there is a drive towards commercialization and value addition in the agricultural sector, which is a must for any country that wants to have profitable and sustainable agriculture for greater transformation of its citizenry especially in regard to attaining food security. Are the African countries properly positioning themselves in this regard?

Historically, there is no country in the world that attained agricultural transformation by depending on hand hoe driven agriculture.

All the developed countries like USA, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Asian countries such as China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea and among others that attained agricultural transformation and are now food donors to African countries, had to heavily invest in their agricultural sectors with all the necessary machines — a move which paved way for agricultural mechanization to take root in their countries to date.

It should be noted that millions of farmers in Africa are poor despite the natural resources available, most of them cannot afford to acquire machines needed for agricultural mechanization.

African countries through their governments, must without excuse start by heavily investing in agricultural sector in regard to purchasing agricultural machines for their farmers to use.

The government of Uganda have on several occasions purchased tractors for few farmers to use in paving way for agricultural mechanization to take root in various rural communities in the country, though they are not enough to cover millions of farmers in the country.

One hopes that the government will continuously buy more machines and put in place stringent measures to ensure these machines are properly maintained. If all these measures are put in place and implemented, it will contribute to spurring of food production in the country.

“By purchasing some tractors for use by farmers who are the kingpin of the country’s economy, the government is finally waking up and recognizing the fact that without agricultural mechanization, it will be hard for it to attain overall economic transformation of the country,” said a senior official from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, who agreed to talk to this writer on condition of anonymity.

“We need to train more machine operators to operate these machines who are currently very few at the moment,” he added.

It is so disheartening for Africa to continue relying on foreign aid to feed millions of its people when the continent is a home to 60 per cent of world’s arable land which in essence means that the continent has a comparative advantage over other world continents in the area of agriculture.

Africa should be the food basket regionally, and to the rest of the other continents. In return, earning trillions of dollars from food exports for self-sustenance.

This calls for African governments to significantly increase on budget funds allocated to their agricultural sector and take agriculture as a priority in their development programs.

Majority of the African countries have not and are not fully implementing Maputo Declaration which requires them to dedicate 10 per cent of their budgets to agricultural sector.

Hand hoe driven agriculture is outdated and should not be relied on, by any sane and serious African country, which wants to attain food security. Uganda and many other African countries are experiencing a high population growth rate averaging between 2.8 – 3.5 per cent per annum, yet their food production is not increasing significantly in proportionate to the increasing population — a factor that has resulted to the skyrocketing of food prices, which millions of the citizenry in the continent are finding hard to afford.

This problem is further compounded by the high rate of rural – urban migration — which has seen able bodied youth leaving agriculture to the old people in villages in search of greener pastures in towns/cities.

It is thus only through agricultural mechanization that this challenge can be resolved. With agricultural mechanization, you are assured of increase of farm yields per acreage.

Since agricultural mechanization also involves putting in place post-harvest technologies which among other things include establishing appropriate and adequate storage facilities, adopting it, will lead to avoidance of wastage which farmers incurs due to lack of such facilities.

African farmers are losing a third of what they produce. In fact, research shows that post-harvest loses in Africa for non-perishable goods are in the range of 5-15 per cent, 20-30 per cent for semi perishable and 40 percent for perishable goods.

Africa should not continue ignoring the role of irrigation in stimulating agricultural development which can best be applied in a mechanized farming arrangement.

Much as the continent is home to the largest chunk of world’s arable land, it is far below other continents in terms of irrigation use.

Sub-Saharan Africa has only 3.7 per cent of its arable land irrigated, while South Asia has 41 per cent of its farm lands irrigated — no wonder the continent is suffering from persistent food shortages.

 Rain fed agriculture is outdated and Africa cannot rely on it to attain food security. African governments should therefore wake up and help their farmers to acquire irrigation tools.

Every African country should establish an agricultural development bank that is mainly dedicated to extending interest free loans to its farmers. This will enable them to purchase good quality seeds, fertilizers, tractors and irrigation tools for use to stimulate their agricultural initiatives.

 If this is not done, curbing wide spread soil depletion in Africa will be hard. Fertilizer use in Africa is still very low compared to other countries in the west and Asia.

African countries should make it a point to see that every village has a cooperative society — which this agricultural development bank supports.

In sum, hand hoe driven agriculture is outdated and cannot be relied on to attain food security in Africa. It is only through agricultural mechanization that Africa will be able to attain food security and its industrialization targets that the continent is finding hard to attain.

By Moses Hategeka, Ugandan based independent governance researcher, public affairs analyst and Kampala Dispatch contributor