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Why green revolution has failed in Africa - History of the first, second, and third agricultural revolutions

Green revolution has failed in Africa. Luckily, History of the first, second, and third agricultural revolutions explains it all.

Is the Green Revolution movement a hit or miss in Africa?

Green revolution has failed to achieve results in Africa. Luckily, history teaches us that, through the first, second and third agricultural revolutions, mechanization is an imperative precedent for green revolution.

Do you want to understand why Africa is a net importer of row crops - such as maize, wheat, rice, soy etc?  This far, most of the problems that ail Africa’s agriculture are pretty well known. Anyone in the field can highlight them easily starting with low use of inputs like fertilizer and pesticides, low mechanization, climate change, small enclosed land, unsuitable land tenure systems, to the misconception that farming is only for subsistence, etc. Now that we have identified these problems, we need to go on to the next step - PRIORITIZATION

So, before I reveal my thoughts, I would like you to answer the following questions:

  • Can you effectively apply fertilizer or pesticides on a 50 Ha piece of land without mechanization? 
  • Can you effectively harvest wheat manually from a 5 Ha piece of land?

I am not sure of your answer, but I guess that there is no way to do the above activities with EFFICIENCY.

I am very glad today that I work in the agricultural mechanization industry, however, i wish to clarify here that my suggestions are not biased by the passion I have for my work, but are based on a logical root-cause assessment.

Among the problems identified above, I strongly believe that mechanization should be solved first. Why? Mechanization has two key benefits:

  1. It improves labor productivity and efficiency: One person with a machine can do what 500 people can do in a day. Machines liberate people from drudgery, hence making them more creative, happier, and productive.
  2. It improves farm productivity: Some things can only be done using machines especially at large scale. Machines also increase farm productivity by enhancing the efficiency of farm activities like input applications, harvesting, etc.

The above two benefits are unique to mechanization. 

The first, second, and third agricultural revolutions can explain why the green revolution has failed in Africa

Let me support my argument by taking you back to the history of world's agricultural revolutions. 

The first agricultural revolution  was marked by the transformation of human societies from hunting & gathering to farming. The second  agricultural revolution which started in the UK was made possible courtesy of mechanization. The third agricultural revolution (also called green revolution) which we are in today, consists of adoption of practices such as improved seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and other new technologies to increase farm productivity.

Africa has perfectly achieved the first revolution. However, I see a lot of effort today being directed towards 3rd revolution without paying attention to the second revolution, which is a big mistake. Take it from me. For the green revolution to come true in Africa, we must achieve the second agricultural revolution first – which consists of mechanizing farms.

This is the sequence that our agricultural revolution  have to go through. History is there to help us, Africans.

To the proponents of the green revolution, please explain to us - why does Kenya import 90% of the wheat consumed in the country?  The same case applies to  many African countries. Put in mind that achieving high wheat productivity is the lowest hanging fruit in the green revolution “theory”.

In my view, high levels of wheat production are only possible with mechanization – that’s why Africa imports wheat - because there is absence of mechanization. 

We might not be very certain on how to implement a successful mechanization strategy in our African countries given the facts that agricultural machines are expensive, farmers are very poor, farms are too small, governments offer zero subsidies to agricultural mechanization, some communities believe that farming is a manual activity and hence mechanization is not welcome…etc.  

But what I just want from you, readers, is the adoption of my idea that mechanization is a top priority challenge that should be addressed urgently through concerted efforts by the governments, development partners as well as the private sector. If we agree on that, then we can bring our minds together to design the “HOW”.

Are we together?

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  1. Agreed. Also, hands on training on mechanization should be prioritized in technical institutions instead of too much theory(which characterizes most of learning in our learning institutions) to complement adoption of mechanization services.

    1. Thank you for the additional points Dedan. Agric mechanization courses should be introduced in technical colleges especially at cert and dip levels.

  2. Interesting read.
    As you pointed out, mechanization will attract higher cost to a small scale farmer, high cost of maintenance and thus, favors large scale farmers. In that case, agricultural revolutions should NOT be viewed in the lenses of stages but on capacity of a farmer. I mean a small scale farmer would adopt 1st stage and jump to 3rd stage, implementing part of stage 2 and still optimize on production while a larger farmer assumes the three 1st - 3rd revolutions.

    What defines a small scale farmer? Is it size or production? Possibly the latter. By optimization, I reckon that a farmer occupying a smaller piece of land could match the production of one occupying a larger portion of land. Therefore measurements should be based on production per a crop and not the overall production.

    Finally, I would be glad if enlightened about organic farming which I believe falls under green revolution? Thank you for the insights.

    1. Thank you for the insightful in depth analysis.
      Two things here:
      1. Unless you are farming 1/2 an acre, manual labor on more than one acre cannot be efficient, and hence production can never be optimum. Depending on where you are, small scale farming is anything from 50 Ha and below. In Africa mostly less than 10 ha.
      2. As I mentioned, mechanizing smallholder farmers against the backdrop of an already complex farming system is not going to be an easy thing. But if we bring our minds together, impossible is nothing.

      NB: In my view, organic farming is the opposite of green revolution. The latter calls for use of improved seeds (some which are GMO), chemicals to control pest, weed and diseases in order to increase production. Productivity is at the heart....While organic farming calls for the disuse of all that..Quality is at the heart.

  3. Nicely written and Thanks for sharing. For most of the best countries performing well in agriculture government has significantly featured in their finance. As we all know agricultural machines are mostly very expensive. We cannot always have to wait for government, but I am sure if our farmers are assisted largely in their finance and marketing or sale of produce, this will go long way to turn our agricultural sector around in Africa. Let's keep working on ways to make things better, Agricultural wise. Well done ��.


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