Africa, in contrast with other developing regions where agricultural and, particularly, food production have kept pace with population growth, has experienced on the whole, declining per capita agricultural production and in many cases has suffered reduced self-sufficiency in major food commodities. In addition to a lack of adequate policy and institutional support, a key constraint leading to low productivity has been inadequate attention to adapting and extending agricultural mechanization to suit the needs of the small-scale farmers. Furthermore, the symbiosis between the agricultural and industrial sectors, which stimulated the early industrialization of developed economies, has been slow to evolve.
Key questions that arise when considering African agriculture are whether long-term sustainable growth of the sector is possible with farmers who rely on hand tool technology powered entirely by human muscle, and whether these farmers can compete with those in other parts of the world who have mechanized not only the land preparation tasks, but also many harvesting and post-harvest operations. Other concerns are demographic trends affecting the agricultural sector and productivity, including increasing urban populations, an ageing rural population including ageing farmers, migration of the young and educated to urban areas to escape the arduous hand tool agriculture, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic which is affecting labour availability.
Trends in mechanization worldwide clearly show that there are strong correlations between economic growth and mechanization - those countries that have achieved unprecedented economic growth over the past three decades and have succeeded in solving their food problems have also advanced to higher levels of mechanization in their agriculture. Countries that have stagnated economically with significant numbers of their citizens steeped deeper in poverty, have also lagged behind in agricultural mechanization. This is quite apparent to many experts and policy-makers, especially given the impetus of globalization and information flows.
Despite the growing international demand for higher-value processed agro-industry products, Africa is yet to make significant progress locally toward adding value to her primary agricultural commodities and to achieve compliance with international standards. Indeed, African countries contribute less than 10 percent to global value addition. Africa’s international trade is dominated by primary commodity exports, which represent almost 60 percent of total export value, with the remaining 40 percent being accounted for by fuels. Among non-fuel primary commodity exports, agricultural products account for more than 25 percent of trade revenues.
There is a need therefore to re-examine: the role of agricultural mechanization in economic development of Africa, both for the agricultural and agro-industrial sectors; the policies and strategies necessary to foster mechanization of African agriculture; opportunities for developing local industries for production of machinery and implements; and strategies to develop the technological base for fostering value addition, reducing post-harvest losses and facilitating market access.
Chair: Chakib Jenane, (UNIDO)
Chair: Josef Kienzle, (FAO)