In the wake of infectious diseases like COVID-19, we are reminded that farm mechanization in Africa is indispensable.
 HE Uhuru Kenyatta. Photo from

Farm mechanization in Africa is indispensable in the wake of infectious diseases like COID-19.

 In my previous article entitled "COVID-19 exposes African agriculture by targeting the elderly who are the main source of agricultural labor", I discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious risk to Africa’s agricultural workforce, which is aged around 60 years. In this article, I elicit some reflections around the recurrent disease outbreaks in Africa, and their effects on agriculture.
Data available on Kenya's agriculture indicates that:

  • Agriculture directly employs more than 40% of Kenya’s population,
  • Degree of farm mechanization stands at 30%, predominately land preparation. 
  • 20% of farm activities rely on draught animals, and
  • 50% of farm activities depend on human muscles. Human muscle power is provided by agricultural wage earners, who are paid daily. They move from farm to farm in search of work, either on a daily or weekly basis.

The above description highlights that Kenya’s farming lies on the shoulders of human muscles. Therefore, an outbreak of human diseases could have dire consequences on agriculture. For example, it’s widely mentioned that the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS has been a big impediment to farmers' productivity in Africa. 
In Africa, it is common to hear of disease outbreaks. In 2014 it was Ebola, today it is COVID-19, another it is day cholera or malaria, and tomorrow we never know.

Why farm mechanization in Africa is indispensable in the post-COVID-19  era

If social distancing and minimized movements become the new normal, how readily can agriculture adapt given that thousands of people work on the farms?
In the corporate world, organizations that possess enabling infrastructure are already implementing strategies such as remote working, working in shifts, automation, etc, to minimize human to human contact.
Is Africa’s agriculture well enabled to implement strategies that reduce human interactions without affecting efficiency?
Mechanization is one of such enablers, however, Africa is crawling behind.
 The COVID-19 pandemic should be a reminder that farm mechanization is still a priority. Transition from muscles to the engine will reduce the vulnerability of the agricultural sector during the COVID-19 pandemic and in future disease outbreaks.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Wambugu

Development partners,