Providing mechanization services to small scale farmers in Africa should be a role of the government!
Small scale farmers are poor. Therefore, providing mechanization services to small scale farmers in Africa should be a role of the government!
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Role of government in farm mechanization

The inadequate mechanization of small scale  farms in Africa is a sign of failure or lack of will by the African governments to invest significantly in agriculture. 

Agriculture in Kenya is dominated by subsistence and semi-subsistence households cultivating less than 3 acres of land. 

Kenya aspires to become one of the most developed economies in Africa in the near future. For these aspirations to come true, the country must shift its focus to agriculture and make a deliberate and significant investment in the sector given that agriculture is one of the country’s most productive sectors.

 Low levels of mechanization is associated with low levels of labor productivity leading to low farm yields. Therefore, investments in agriculture should aim at increasing access to mechanization and other farming technologies, because human muscles and hand tools can never earn Kenya a place in the list of the most developed economies.

Tractor services are the most basic forms of mechanization. In Kenya for instance, it is estimated that:
  • There are 15,000 tractors in total,
  • There are 6 million household farms,
This means one tractor should serve around 400 households, regardless of their farm sizes. This is a complicated logistics because tractors are forced to travel very long distances to serve farmers.

The dilemma of mechanization in Kenya and Africa in general only affects smallholder farmers. Large-scale farms are relatively well mechanized.  

Acquiring farm machinery and new farming technologies require huge investments, which is not within the reach of most small and medium-scale farmers. That is why I wrote in one of my previous articles that what smallholder farmers do with mechanization critically depends on decisions made by stakeholders at the macro (Government & Development partners) levels. 

What next given the fact that:
  • Smallholder farmers cannot afford to purchase agricultural machinery?
  • The private sector has not invested enough to provide affordable hire services to farmers?

Role of the government in providing mechanization services to small scale farmers.

The government must intervene to ensure that there is balanced access to mechanization services across the country.
Traditionally, African governments have intervened through the purchase of bulk tractors and distributing them to rural areas under cheap community hiring schemes. This strategy has always been short-lived due to poor management of State-owned assets leading to very short life spans of tractors and inefficiencies. The distribution of state-owned agricultural machinery is not a sustainable strategy anymore.

In my view, the only effective way for the government to increase access to mechanization is by introducing subsidy programs that would allow medium-scale farmers to acquire machinery at reduced prices. For instance, if the government subsidizes the purchase of a new tractor by 25%,  many people would afford to buy it. This strategy can be adopted only by a serious government that is ready to invest hugely in agriculture. 

As a way forward, I suggest that every government should leave the responsibility of tractor ownership and hiring services to the private sector. However, it must provide incentives especially subsidies to lower the cost of machinery acquisition. This strategy has perfectly worked elsewhere, I have evidence, Morocco is a case in point.
If smallholder farmers are left alone, they may never achieve the recommended levels of mechanization.
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