Embracing mechanisation in agriculture: Part Two…low levels of mechanisation hinder productivity

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By Elton Ziki

WHEN the tri-cycle tractor was introduced in 1924, power cultivation of row crops became practical. 

Rubber tyres for tractors were introduced in 1932. 

Rubber allowed the tractors to move at high speeds, over hard surfaced roads while the farmers’ ever-growing need for timeous delivery of production inputs and product output could be met more efficiently than with animal and cart transport. 

In the mid-l930s, diesel engines were introduced on farm tractors with a huge gain in fuel economy, ruggedness and dependability. 

In 1936, the hydraulically controlled three-point hitch was introduced and a new era in farm machinery began. 

Many applications of hydraulics soon followed and became one of the most widely used operational features of the modern tractor. 

In recent years, power steering, torque, amplifiers, turbo chargers, 4-wheel drive, hydrostatic transmission, safety frames and cabs, as well as many other improvements have contributed to a modern farm tractor which is a safe, efficient and versatile power plant for a mechanical-power technology-based agriculture. 

Improvements in implements and machines for agriculture have kept pace with tractor development and now have the versatility, strength and precision a farmer requires.

The 19th and 20th centuries also brought a new angle to agricultural mechanisation; the requirement for off-farm manufacturing and services to support the mechanised farmer. 

Farm machinery became more sophisticated and required special materials for construction. 

The individual farmer could no longer be his own designer and manufacturer, as he had been for centuries. 

Nearly all farm machinery manufacturers today can trace their beginning to a blacksmith. 

John Deere, for example, was a blacksmith who developed the first successful all-steel mouldboard plough in 1837. 

By 1846, he was building 1 000 ploughs per year and went on to establish the largest farm machinery manufacturing enterprise in the world. 

The new tractors brought the requirement for a network of suppliers of fuel and lubricants. 

As machines were standardised and mass produced, spare parts had to be produced, supplied and facilities established for repair and maintenance. 

Mechanical power technology in agriculture demanded new skills and operational inputs. 

Research, extension and credit institutions were developed to serve the requirements of the new modern farmers through to this day.

Under Chapter Four of NDS1, which speaks to Food Security and Nutrition, Section 283 says major factors driving food insecurity in the country include, among others, natural shocks, low skills and knowledge base of farmers, shortage of inputs, low levels of mechanisation, reliance on rain-fed agriculture, limited access to market information and marketing facilities, limited access to finance and limited security of tenure.  

It is the low levels of mechanisation which we want to focus on in this write up as the Second Republic forges ahead to grow the economy in a bold and decisive manner.

There has been major technological transformation of agricultural operations and processes in the developed countries. 

This is not to say there is nothing more to learn, nothing that needs improvement or no new goals to be attained in further agricultural technological advancement. 

It is not the case — different challenges, diverse concepts, problems and possible solutions turn up each year. 

Simply put, it means that developed countries have generally reached an optimum level of self-reliance in agricultural products; for example, they have the capability to either produce their requirements for agricultural products or procure them.  

One of the reasons for this positive state of affairs is the diversity of mechanisation technology which has allowed a high level of appropriateness in the selection of production inputs. 

In each country the mechanisation input has been appropriately matched to the prevailing size of farm, crops grown, farming systems, level of development and social conditions. 

Unfortunately, this does not generally apply to developing countries. 

Despite the recent growth in mechanical power technology, most small farmers rely on hand tools and animal draught technology, and have inadequate access to other production-increasing inputs, such as fertiliser, seeds and pesticides.

Section 288 of the NDS1 recognises inadequate investment in the agricultural sector, inadequate irrigation infrastructure and watering points, and huge post-harvest losses as compounding issues that can be ameliorated by the adoption of appropriate mechanised equipment to deal with irrigation, cultivation and post-harvest challenges, like drying and packaging or storage of produce as well as processing. 

Hence, the Second Republic is not accepting the slow and incremental approach to economic growth and increased agricultural productivity is no exception. 

That is why there is need for urgent mechanisation in the agricultural sector. 

Each farming and rural situation is different and the mechanisation input that is, or should be, used must be specific for each situation in order to be appropriate. 

Many generalisations are currently being made as to the appropriateness of the different levels of mechanisation technology for this country or that. 

However, because power tillers, for example, have proven appropriate for small-farm paddy cultivation in Japan does not necessarily mean they will meet the needs of small farmers in the rain-fed regions of India or in the heavy-clay delta region of Egypt, moreso in the hilly terrain of Chimanimani or Chipinge. 

Nor does it follow that the high-horsepower tractors and sophisticated machines and equipment becoming more popular in many developed countries are necessarily suitable for developing countries with unskilled operators, limited maintenance and repair facilities and expertise, or a chronic shortage of foreign exchange. 

At present, the analysis of local situations to determine what level of mechanisation and other technology is appropriate for improving agricultural production and rural development is not generally being adequately carried out.

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