Why is mechanized agriculture important?
Mechanization in agriculture is the process of replacing human and animal labor, with mechanical power wherever possible. It is meant to reduce the strain on farmers and increase productivity. Right now, most farming that takes place in sub-Saharan Africa is un-mechanized. Over 60% of farm power is still provided by human muscle, mostly from women, the elderly and children; 25% of farm power is provided by animals, while less than 20% of agricultural practices are aided by engine power.
The mechanization of agriculture goes all the way back to the beginning of human cultivation of crops. Ancient civilizations soon learned that they could use animal labor in order to lessen the amount of work while increasing their harvests. Later, they developed tools such as sickles in order to aid with the work. However, mechanized farming truly took off during the industrial revolution, when humans used technology in order to strengthen their farming practices. Inventions such as the combine harvester and the threshing machine allowed the output of farms to increase exponentially. For example, it was said that each horse-pulled reaper freed up five men when they were first put on the market in the 1830’s. This transformation of agriculture via machine has led to the world we have today, where a small amount of people are able to provide food for much of society. For instance, in America, only around 1.3% of the population are farmers, showing how little of the workforce is actually engaged in food production. However, not all parts of the world have felt this mechanization effort equally. As stated above, in sub-Saharan Africa, the vast majority of farming is still done by hand, with around 65% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population relying on subsistence farming.
Much of this farming is done by women, leading to an overwhelming burden of work. For example, weeding, a farming activity that is often considered the most time consuming is generally performed by women. Increasing mechanized farming in the region would decrease women’s workload, allowing them more time for other activities. It would also improve their general health, as they would have to spend less time doing physically demanding tasks. Mechanization is a women’s issue when looking at the context of sub-Saharan Africa, and is one of the reasons why FarmSahel focuses on women’s empowerment throughout the region.
Lack of mechanization in Sub-Saharan agriculture is part of the reason why there are such high levels of poverty in this region. Farmers cannot get the maximum output from their lands, leading to food shortages and over-working of farmers and their families. Farming in this region is characterized by “an excessive reliance on human power” and “low productivity of human labour.” This issue additionally leads to less and less farmers, as farmers choose instead to pursue other options within cities.
In addition to the problems presented by lack of mechanization, it has often been overlooked in a development context. Oftentimes, development organizations opt to simply give people food, instead of actually giving them the resources to grow their own. This leads to mechanization being ignored as an option for development in many sub-Saharan countries. There is also the issue of mechanization being a tough issue to handle, as different farming contexts need different technology. For example, many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are subsistence farmers, meaning that something like a tractor would not be productive for them. A tractor is better for farmers with larger plots of land, or collective plots of land. This need for specialization of equipment provides an additional hurdle to this process.
Mechanization of farming in Sub-saharan Africa is a solution to the systemic problem of poverty and lack of food within the region. International organizations should focus more on the issue of mechanization, by talking with farmers to learn their needs and then providing them with the proper technology.
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