|CERES No. 135 (FAO Ceres, 1992, 50 p.)|
For mechanization to succeed, it must be put in a realistic context
by R.C. Gifford
After 40 years of argument, missed opportunities and wasted resources, it's high time for the international community to rethink the role of mechanization in rural development assistance programs.
Why are so many developing countries no closer to meeting the food requirements of their people today than they were 40 years ago? Experience shows: millions of farmers in these countries haven't been able to move from subsistence to market-oriented farming because they lack farm power and the right implements. And it is only after most of the farmers of the Third World make this transition that they'll be capable of feeding not only themselves but rapidly expanding urban populations as well.
"Development professionals", and the politicians who control financial and technical assistance, should be taking another look at their programs and projects. It's time to discard mere fads and slogans like "small is beautiful" (sometimes it isn't) that have done little in the last 20 years to help farmers in the Third World get the mechanization inputs and systems they want and need - whether small or large - to produce enough food at a reasonable price to feed their own people.
Through much of history, the need to boost agricultural production could be met mainly by expanding the area cultivated, and new technology evolved at a relatively slow pace. The developed countries have had the past 150 years for an orderly application of mechanical-power technology to their farm sector. Even in the most advanced countries, cereal was harvested in the early 19th century with the same basic hand-tools that had been used for nearly a thousand years. Draft animals were still the dominant form of farm power in the United States and Europe during the first quarter of the 20th century.
Advances in technology were made by farmers and private entrepreneurs, who could respond to the needs of agriculture without any government intervention and needed little from the public sector or the international community.
Today, however, conditions have changed. The population of the world, which was four billion in 1975 and 5.3 billion in 1990, is expected to top six billion by the end of this century. A substantial increase in agricultural production will be needed, and developing countries can't afford to wait for the slow evolution of agricultural technology if they want to achieve their national development objectives. They are under tremendous pressure to compress the equivalent of 150 years of development into five to 10 years, and their governments have little choice but to take the lead in establishing the economic and social environment needed for success.
Governments must first make decisions on two major mechanization issues:
what is the total demand for farm power based on increased agricultural production goals?
what combinations of hand-tool, draft-animal and mechanical-power technology are best suited, technically and in terms of social and economic objectives, for specific situations in the country?
Making these decisions is difficult, due to the complex relationships involved, the number of factors to be considered and the inevitable political conflicts.
Farmers also have decisions to make. They must establish what type, quantity and quality of tools, draft power and equipment they can pay for. They must consider the potential for increased production and income, relief of drudgery - perhaps even the social benefits in prestige or community influence - advanced forms of mechanization technology can bring.
The farmers' decisions are less complex than those of governments, but to make them on a rational basis can be difficult. Farmers in the developing world don't usually have the farm records they need to guide them, and the help provided by extension service personnel is notoriously weak in most countries. It is hard for the farmer to fully understand and weigh alternatives because access to local models of mechanization systems is limited.
The international community, aid agencies and commercial financial institutions are also faced with complex decisions, which are often economically risky and politically sensitive. Commercial institutions are chiefly concerned with profit and need reasonable assurance that money loaned for agricultural mechanization can and will be paid back.
Bilateral aid agencies often have uncomfortable political choices. They feel an obligation to support their own machinery industry by insisting that their products be part of their aid packages, but they also want to be seen by their peers as providing the right inputs for the job.
In recent years, two new considerations have arisen: energy and the environment. Starting with the energy crisis of 1973, which sent oil prices shooting up dramatically, concern has grown over the need to conserve the world's supply of liquid fossil fuel and to increase the efficiency with which it is used. The needs of the urban sector tend to dominate government policy, and instead of giving food production priority, the use of energy in agriculture is challenged. Usually the challenge focuses on farm machinery, which takes the largest share of total commercial energy used in agriculture - just over 50 per cent, including operation and manufacture.
What the most vocal critics fail to point out is that agricultural production's share of the total world use of commercial energy for all purposes is only about 3.5 per cent and farm machinery's share only 1.79 per cent. It is seldom mentioned that farm machinery uses less than 90 million metric tons of oil equivalent a year for its operation and manufacture - while military and civilian jet aircraft use about 93 million metric tons worldwide.
The effects of agricultural mechanization on the environment have not always been good. Improper selection and use of systems for land-clearing and cultivation can cause excessive soil erosion and compaction, which make soil and water less productive. But environmental damage can be minimized by choosing and operating machinery better. It is also important to keep environmental concerns in perspective, by relating environmental costs to food production benefits.
Too often agricultural mechanization has been introduced and applied without adequate planning, direction or support, and the results are both unexpected and unwanted. Concern over this situation led the FAO to start actively encouraging and supporting formulation of national agricultural mechanization strategies in developing countries. This campaign, launched in 1975, was strengthened last year by the emphasis the 26th session of the FAO Conference placed on agricultural development strategy.
Putting machines in context
A rise in agricultural production is the prime requirement for setting the whole rural development process in motion. But the type, amount and level of technology chosen to meet the objectives of rural development must reflect the need for more than just higher production. It makes little sense to concentrate entirely on boosting food production when it is well known that production shortfalls are not responsible for much of the hunger in the world today. Poor people are hungry because they can't pay for the quantity and quality of food to meet their basic nutritional needs. The introduction and application of advanced mechanization technology must, therefore, also reflect the need to increase job opportunities, stimulate development of non-farm rural activity and generate benefits that accrue equally to all segments of rural society. It must help change social and institutional structures and the distribution of wealth and commercial traditions as well as lead to continued innovation.
Whether in human, animal or mechanical form, farm power is an essential component of all production, harvest, transport and processing operations in agriculture. Today, humans provide most of the power for farming in the developing countries - from nearly 60 per cent in Latin America to nearly 90 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa - and, with rural population growing, this is not expected to change appreciably over the next decade.
Animal power currently contributes nearly 10 per cent of total farm power in sub-Saharan Africa, 17 per cent in the Near East and North Africa, 28 per cent in Asia (excluding China) and 19 per cent in Latin America. Mainly because of increased demand for meat and milk and population pressure on grazing land, draft animal use and numbers are expected to decline significantly in some regions by the year 2000.
Mechanization on the rise
The use of mechanical-power technology for developing country agriculture is projected to rise in all regions of the world except Asia (excluding China) by the year 2000. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is expected to double from 1984 levels, while in the Near East and North Africa it will be up by nearly eight per cent and in Latin America by nearly 30 per cent. Tractors will play an increasingly important role, especially in Africa, in raising agricultural output by helping extend harvested areas. Theoretically, there is scope for using draft animals for this task, but in practice, disease problems and the lack of a tradition of using draft animals in most : countries still tends to limit their use.
Most developing countries are already capable of producing their own hand-tools and draft-animal implements. Countries with a higher level of industrial development could manufacture most of their requirements for tractor-drawn implements and assemble tractors with imported and domestically produced components as well.
But government policies are holding them back. Failure to allocate raw materials inhibits the growth of village blacksmiths and small rural industries, which would be able to fabricate hand-tools and animal-drawn implements at low cost. Unrealistic import duties and tariffs on steel and machinery components discourage establishment of the medium scale industries that could supply tractor-drawn implements and stationary equipment, and trade policies are often barriers to regional cooperation in farm machinery manufacture, which could reduce costs and improve the quality of tools and equipment available to farmers. This is a pity because hand-tool and draft-animal technology will continue to be the mainstay of farm mechanization in the Third World for many years to come.
A growing trend
Farmers the world over are becoming more and more aware of the ways in which mechanical-power technology could increase their productivity, reduce drudgery and help them lead a more comfortable life. Their determination to acquire more advanced forms of mechanization technology is becoming increasingly evident in nearly every developing country. This trend cannot be stopped, and even slowing it down will become increasingly difficult. The international community should accept this reality and adopt new approaches and innovative procedures for assistance that are focused on guidance for mechanization in Third World agriculture rather than on control.
It is usually impossible for visiting development professionals, acting alone, to determine which tools, implements or equipment are appropriate. They cannot possibly know enough about the technical, economic, social and political interrelationships that are crucial in each situation. It is local people, particularly farmers and other end-users of mechanization technology who, with the help of professionals when necessary, must decide what forms and combinations of mechanization input they need. To make their decisions they should consider:
the constraints mechanization could help them overcome;
the mechanization systems that are technically suitable and environmentally friendly;
the inputs they can afford and are prepared to buy;
the effects different levels of mechanization could have on social structures and development goals;
the institutional measures that are or could be put in place to support introduction and sustained use of mechanization systems;
the availability of national resources to acquire or mobilize the mechanization inputs they want.
What is appropriate
There is an appropriate level and type of mechanization technology for every farming system in every developing country. But attitudes toward mechanization development assistance and the policies and procedures of the past 40 years have not supported the introduction and sustained use of that technology and are not appropriate for the future.
The late Lester Pearson, Canadian statesman and chairman of the first FAO Conference in 1945, once commented: "... all politicians thought themselves experts on education and agriculture: the former because they had been schooled; the latter, because if not part of a personal past, farming was our heritage only a generation or two ago, and besides, it seems so easy to do, just scratch and plant and God does the rest - look how many illiterates have mastered the art... ".
If Mr Pearson were alive today, he might well be equally caustic about many development professionals, who have assumed authority for decisions on farm mechanization assistance to the developing world for four decades. All too frequently their claims of expertise in the field are based solely on their ability to drive a car. After all, they rationalize, a car is not unlike a tractor because both have rubber tires and an internal combustion engine.
It is such uninformed people, aided and abetted by politicians, who are responsible for the graveyards of discarded tractors, the warehouses full of plows too heavy to be pulled by local oxen and the thousands of spades distributed under the guise of appropriate technology - but impossible for barefoot farmers to use.
It is often despite the development professionals and politicians that countries, particularly in Asia, have slowly but steadily introduced and sustained the use of progressively more advanced forms of mechanized technology - with visible benefits in production and in the farmers' standard of living.
by Paul Starkey
The internal combustion engine may dominate farming in Japan, Western Europe and North America, but animal power is still alive and pulling virtually everywhere else on the planet. By far more affordable and environmentally benign than gasoline or diesel, draft animals still provide most of the world's people with the vital power not only for producing crops and transporting them to market, but for water-raising, logging, milling, land-levelling, road-building and a host of other jobs.
Technology, however, rarely stands still, and animal traction is no exception. In most developing regions, patterns of draft animal use are evolving, offering new opportunities and presenting new problems to planners and farmers alike. Sub-Saharan Africa, especially, is taking a new look at animal power.
The kinds of changes taking place in animal power use aren't always what one would expect - even in regions like Asia, which have employed animal traction for thousands of years.
Throughout the East, draft animal use is so essential a part of smallholders' lives that there would seem little scope for further expansion. The domestic water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is everywhere. Yet there are still areas where animals are being introduced for the first time. In some transmigration schemes in Indonesia, for example, virgin land is being brought under cropping and animal traction is being introduced as a new technology. In rapidly-industrializing regions where many animal-powered operations have been taken over by motor power, the number of work animals has, paradoxically, not declined. Motor power and animal power have often proven complementary, and work animals released from pumping or tillage may be assigned alternative tasks.
Admittedly, when electric or diesel pumps replace animal-powered water-raising systems, the number of working animals may drop, just as the number of animals used for plowing has fallen with the rapid spread of motorized tillage systems in areas of intensive production like India's Punjab or the rice-producing regions of Southeast Asia. But in most of Asia, traditional systems persist. Yoking methods have hardly changed in recent years, and traditional wooden implements and wheels are still popular, though farmers are slowly turning to steel tillage implements and pneumatic tires for carts.
An interesting change is the increasing employment of female work animals. In Java, an estimated 80 per cent of draft animals are females, and the proportion of working cows is rising in Bangladesh. Cows and she-buffalo can provide seasonal power for tillage - and also produce calves and milk. Farmers consider multi-purpose female animals particularly suited to intensive smallholder systems where animals are closely monitored and often stall-fed. Oxen remain popular in areas where animals are plentiful and extensive grazing is still possible. Castrated males are generally preferred for more specialized full-time work such as commercial transport, contract plowing and forestry.
In the Americas
Animal traction has been part of smallholder farming in the Americas for mere centuries, rather than the millennia of Asia or North Africa, but those centuries have been long enough to develop original approaches. It's traditional in tropical Latin America, for example, to yoke oxen or bulls in pairs to pull long-beamed wooden arcs. Wooden-wheeled oxcarts are also common. As in Asia, there has been a slow move toward steel implements and carts with pneumatic tires, but traditional implements also persist because they are cheap and can be made in the villages.
In Argentina, Chile, Canada, the United States and other nations with more temperate climates, horses have been used for tillage as well as transport. Even though the animal power that was so widespread earlier this century has largely been replaced by motors on large-scale farms in North America, animal traction is still used in some farming systems in the United States and Canada. Because of their religious beliefs the Amish employ only animal traction, usually horses or mules, and still make a profit. Their animal-powered techniques are efficient, and they have little need for bank loans so their farming is both ecologically and economically sustainable. Oxen and horses are also used on many small farms in Canada and the United States for extracting timber, and ox-pulling competitions are big attractions at state fairs in Ontario, Quebec and New England.
Africa, a mixed bag
North Africa and the Nile Valley have a long history of using oxen, cows, bulls, donkeys, mules, horses, buffalo and camels for tillage and transport. In recent years, low fuel prices in North Africa have encouraged a switch to motorized systems for largescale plowing, irrigation and transport, but animal traction persists in smallholder systems. In Morocco, which is not an oil-producing state, more than one million draft animals are still employed, and animal and motor-power complement each other well.
There is also a long history of using work animals on the Horn of Africa. In Ethiopia, which has Africa's largest population of draft animals, traditional cropping systems almost invariably involve the use of the wooden "maresha" and plow, pulled by pairs of oxen. Pack donkeys and mules are also widely used in Ethiopia. Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, animals have long been employed for transport by pastoralists and traders, but animal-drawn implements are not used in traditional shifting cultivation farming systems.
Animal traction for tillage and for wheeled transport was introduced into sub-Saharan Africa during the colonial period, when pairs of oxen were yoked to pull imported metal implements, but the practice was slow to spread during the first half of this century. The areas where it was adopted first were those with good crop marketing systems, particularly for cotton and groundnuts.
Animal traction is now used throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but is still new enough that the elders of many communities can vividly recall the day on which their village first tried work animals.
During the 1960s and '70s, animal traction received relatively little attention from the governments of newly-independent African states. This was a period when African agriculture was expected to convert as rapidly to tractors as the farms of Europe and North America had done.
But by the late 1970s, higher oil prices, foreign exchange shortages and a number of failed tractor schemes proved rapid motorization was not, after all, practicable. Governments and donors alike began viewing animal traction as a serious development option.
During the 1970s and '80s, donor-assisted projects were established in Africa to introduce animal traction and study its use. The projects promoted "improved" implements, yokes and harnesses and sometimes "improved", i.e. exotic, animals as well. Though the projects published optimistic reports about their successes, farmers adopted few of the innovations. This was because the projects tended to ignore social and economic factors and the risks, variability and complexity of local farming systems. They also failed to consider that, while local animals need minimal management, exotic breeds require a lot of feeding and health care in order to thrive. While heavy implements made of high-quality steel work well on research stations, they are not convenient for the small, irregular fields of local farms.
These lessons have only recently come to light, assisted by the creation of animal traction networks. Through workshops and publications, the West Africa Animal Traction Network and the Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa have promoted an exchange of information and liaison. Projects and practitioners are encouraged to report their failures as well as their successes, and patterns have emerged from the pooling of disappointing results.
It is now clear that despite much well-intentioned work by donor-assisted projects, few technological changes in animal traction have really taken hold in Africa in the past quarter century. Most implements and yoking systems currently in use are similar in design to those available a generation ago. The same is true of many other rural technologies, from hand-hoe to village water distribution systems.
The situation on small farms contrasts sharply with the rapid change in urban technologies and the technological developments on large-scale, commercial farms.
Animal power on the rise
Although donor-assisted development projects in Africa have had little discernable impact on the technology itself, they have often proved remarkably successful in transferring the general practice of animal traction. There have been some remarkable rates of adoption over the last 20 years. In Cote d'Ivoire, the number of oxen used in one area rose from 2 000 to 38 000 in just 15 years, stimulated by training services and a package of inputs made available by a cotton development company. Rapid rates of adoption were also reported recently in parts of Benin (from 3 000 to 35 000), Togo (from 2 000 to 12 000) and Sierra Leone (from 50 to 1 000), and the same thing is now happening in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and southern Mali.
Although projects helped by providing trainers, implements and credit, their effect was often simply to speed up the natural diffusion of animal traction. In many countries, it is farmers moving from one area to another who introduce animal traction technology. A recent survey of Zambia's Copperbelt showed the effect of farmer migration. While nearly all the traditional hoe-farmers were born in the province, most farmers who now use animal traction were born elsewhere. They, or their parents, came from areas where animal traction is used.
The areas where animals have never been used usually have low population densities so that farmers can use bush-fallow shifting cultivation. Animal powered tillage becomes attractive as land pressures increase and farmers clear land on a more permanent basis. Many of these areas have rainfall of more than 1 000 millimetres, and a combination of natural forest and disease had restricted growth of cattle populations. The shortage of work animals is often critical, and the process of "oxen-ization" depends on successful "cattle-ization".
In Zambia and elsewhere, extension services have had clear technical messages for those wishing to try animal traction for the first time, but advice has been less clear on how farmers already using draft oxen could improve their technology. What information was available on "improving" implements and harnessing systems was not taken up. For more than a generation, extension services have been telling farmers to adjust their plows "correctly", yet 95 per cent of farmers remove the adjuster from their plow.
Which, then, is correct: the extension advice or farmer practice? One suspects that 100 000 farmers cannot all be wrong. It is sometimes claimed that farmers ignore extension advice on "improved" technologies because of their alleged conservatism, but this seems unlikely because there are also plenty of examples of farmers rapidly adopting new animal traction technologies that they find truly helpful. The spread of donkey traction in West Africa is a good example.
Donor-assisted projects and government extension services promoted animal traction during the 1970s and '80s in the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and southern Mali. Farmers, who had never used work animals before, learned how to work with yoked pairs of oxen and relatively heavy implements. But, once trained in principles of animal traction, the farmers began using a completely different technology, based on donkeys.
With a single donkey and low-power implements like scarifying tines and seeders, farmers were able to cultivate their land quickly and with less effort. Donkeys were cheap, and because donkey meat is not eaten, the animals could be left to graze unguarded with little risk of theft. Children could easily work with donkeys, and in the flat terrain of West Africa, donkey carts proved ideal for carrying people around the farm and goods to market. This served the farmers' purpose so they rapidly adopted a new species and harnessing system, different implements and an alternative tillage system. The donkey technology is still being transferred from farmer to farmer in the Gambia, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, encouraged by close cultural and trading links with Senegal where donkeys have been in use for years.
African farmers have also started on their own to use cows for work, much to the surprise of official extension services. A quarter of the farmers m one region of Senegal now use draft cows. They find that with good management, work cows are more profitable because they also produce calves and some milk. Cows are in regular use in parts of southern Africa where this was almost unthinkable a generation ago. In Zimbabwe, the trend toward work cows came about as land pressures increased in the main areas of smallholder farming. In Zambia, the use of cows accelerated because a tick-borne disease had decimated ox herds, causing a shortage of work oxen.
Large-scale farming In several southern and east african countries, large-scale commercial farmers, who own several tractors, are also considering the technical and financial advantages of animal power. While most large-scale farmers continue to use tractors for rapid tillage, they are turning to animals for transport and for precise, specialized operations, such as tying tobacco ridges. One commercial farmer in Zambia uses 50 pairs of work oxen for on-farm transport and claims they are reliable and sustainable and require little management time. Furthermore, his computerized accounts show significant savings in capital and running costs compared to motorized alternatives.
Transport benefits The number of animal-drawn carts in use in Africa has increased dramatically in the past 20 years. Roughly 10 per cent of African farmers who own draft animals also have a cart, and the number is rising every year. The 600 000 animal-drawn carts currently in use in sub-Saharan Africa may well reach one million before long. Although there are far fewer carts than there are plows, carts are more important than their numbers indicate. Unlike soil-tillage implements, they are used year-round, and shared through systems of hire and loan that benefit many people.
Animal-drawn transport brings economic and social benefits, and the addition of carts can be a major stimulus to the local economy. Besides reducing the drudgery of personal transport, carts make it easier to market farm produce. Instead of a person carrying a head-load of produce to market, an ox cart or donkey cart can transport several sacks or baskets full of fruit, vegetables, grain or fodder. Carts also make it easier to collect and distribute harvests, water, building materials, timber, farm implements and other goods.
Once carts become available, farmers start to use them for activities no one had thought of before. Planners have sometimes overlooked the increase in transport and economic activities associated with animal-drawn carts, but some pre-introduction surveys now suggest one cart is not enough for a household. Two carts per large household are no longer unusual in many African villages where animal-drawn carts were almost unheard of just one generation ago.
Animal power is almost essential if farmers want to make full use of crop residues, composts and manures. In both West and southern Africa, farmers now use animal-drawn carts to stock crop residues they had previously left in the fields. Human energy alone cannot be expected to transport large quantities of animal manure, but with a cart it is a simple and straightforward operation. In Ethiopia and North Africa, donkeys with panniers or pack saddles play a similar role, carrying both fodder for animals and manure for the crops.
Most African carts are probably made by local artisans using axles from old vehicles, but the supply of axles seldom keeps pace with demand. In West Africa, purpose-built, steel-framed carts fitted with roller-bearings and pneumatic tires have proven popular. Despite their relatively high cost, tens of thousands of these have been purchased, showing that farmers are willing to spend money on higher-technology equipment if they find it profitable.
In southern and East Africa, farmers often use animal-drawn sleds to carry produce. These are cheap to make and can be converted into carts by adding simple wheels cut from tree trunks. Several organizations in southern and East Africa have promoted "appropriate technology" carts with larger wooden wheels and bearings, but farmers rarely consider these appropriate, and their acceptance has been minimal. In contrast, farmers have rapidly adopted carts with pneumatic tires and roller-bearings everywhere they are available.
The woman's place
Worldwide, it has usually been men who work with draft animals and operate animal-drawn implements. Children watched over grazing and helped with animal-control, and women carried food to stall-fed animals. Women might do the seeding behind the plow, but they rarely handled the plow themselves. Now this situation is slowly changing because of changing circumstances. Children are making use of increased educational opportunities and are no longer available to help the farmer tend work animals. In southern Africa in particular, the migration of men to urban areas has forced women to undertake field work previously performed by men, and it is no longer unusual to see women plowing with draft animals. Women are also taking control of animal transport, especially when donkeys are involved because donkeys have fewer associations with male dominance and are considered more manageable than work oxen.
It is a safe bet that animal traction will remain a major power source in developing countries for the foreseeable future, especially for small-scale farmers in Asia, Latin America and North Africa where it has been used for centuries. Looking to the future, it is also possible to say that: . new implements and techniques will only spread rapidly when they have clear economic as well as technical advantages over more traditional technologies; animal-drawn carts will increasingly make use of automotive technology, and pneumatic tires will become more common; as farming systems intensify, female animals will increasingly be used for work; . animal traction is likely to continue spreading quite rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa and to be recognized as a vital power source for small holder farmers. Animals will receive better training, and the number of people working with each team will be reduced. "One person, one team" will eventually become as common in sub-Saharan Africa as it is in Ethiopia and Asia; although oxen will continue to be the main draft animals, donkeys will increasingly be used for light tillage and transport in semi-arid areas. Work cows will become common; the number of animal-drawn carts will increase noticeably, and their adoption will stimulate increased local trade and economic activity; . farmers will probably want to use work animals for secondary tillage and weeding, and this will stimulate implement manufacturers to improve the quality and availability of their cultivators and ridgers; national agencies and donor-assisted projects will increasingly recognize that the benefits of existing animal traction technology are well-proven and that many constraints to animal traction are of an economic, rather than technical nature. But it will also become clear that animal traction users can be helped to benefit from recent developments in materials, processes and technologies. Ways will be found to help farmers already using animal power to increase the utility and efficiency of their work animals.
Illuminating a fresh path toward selective motorization
by D.J. Greig
It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness", says the Chinese proverb, and where the recent history of the motorization of farming in developing countries is concerned, it might almost be a motto.
Darkness - in the form of misjudgement, mistakes, misunderstandings and misapplication of effort - has unquestionably dominated the past four decades, slowing progress and providing pessimists with abundant examples of good intentions gone awry. Many of these errors are being repeated still.
Of course, there has been some progress. FAO published data on tractors in use and arable land in cultivation (see table) gives an indication. But if the worldwide development enterprise, launched in the wake of the Second World War, is ultimately to be seen as more than what one critic calls "a ruin in the intellectual landscape", clear light must be thrown on the errors that have been made and a fresh path charted.
It's time to light some candles.
Tales of woe
Almost every month another tale of woe seems to surface about machines that can't perform the tasks for which they were purchased, about engines that break down and can't be repaired because they haven't been serviced, and about shortages of replacement parts because users can't afford to buy them or governments are unable or unwilling to allocate foreign exchange to import them.
Why are inappropriate machines and equipment still being supplied to developing countries?
There are many reasons, probably first among them the indisputable fact that manufacturers of tractors, implements and electric motors in developed countries are profit-oriented commercial enterprises, which always welcome additional export markets to increase sales and profits. Development aid programs have supported these firms' sales for a variety of economic, technical and political reasons, but the technology transferred from developed to developing countries in this way has rarely succeeded, because it was designed for other farmers in other parts of the world.
On this point, however, there is hope. Signs of a more realistic approach are beginning to emerge. Equipment manufacturers and development agencies alike appear to be realizing that farmers in developing countries are not the homogeneous group of conforming recipients of aid that many planners previously assumed. They are beginning to understand that there is a difference between the machinery and equipment commonly used in the developed countries and what is appropriate to the needs of farmers elsewhere. They are starting to see that providing unsuitable technology, even if it is free, does not further development and is not acceptable to either the donor or recipient countries.
Introducing a single new element of technology to a stabilized set of resources rarely succeeds, even in technically advanced countries where there are fewer initial basic constraints. A completely new production system, such as a new grain-drying and storage unit selected for local conditions of grain supply and distribution, is often more successful - provided it can be serviced and maintained. That means, for instance, that well-chosen electric motors on processing machinery may be a better investment than a tractor and soil-engaging implement, because they need less service and maintenance and so are less affected by the level of available support services.
But allowing commercial pressures to blind us to the advantages of such trade-offs isn't the only problem. Several other roadblocks have been ham pering motorization, including misunderstandings due to terminology, underestimation of costs, and failure to appreciate energy and fuel constraints.
To mechanize/to motorize
Confusion over terminology is a serious problem in planning the right mechanization for a developing country. Technical terms are introduced by specialists who know exactly what they mean, but the same words may have an entirely different meaning for other people. When the specialist speaks in terms that are already in general use to describe something quite different, the words may be misinterpreted and lead to the misrepresentation of basic concepts.
The verb "to mechanize" is a case in point. The Oxford Dictionary definition is "to give mechanical character to...", but in the specialist world of agricultural engineering it means much more. Mechanization describes the use of any device, powered by any means, for agricultural production and related activities. Mechanization can thus cover hand-hoes, animal-drawn plows, tractors and implements, grain-milling equipment and a range of crop-spraying equipment. It includes any device or operation using any energy source to improve effectiveness and efficiency of agricultural or related operations. It certainly is not limited to describing tractors with internal combustion engines, although this is the common interpretation.
To "motorize" was originally a military term for equipping foot soldiers with motor transport. In modern usage it is an all-embracing term to describe all operations involving the use of power derived from sources other than the direct application of human muscle energy. It includes all systems that convert external sources of energy through mechanical devices into forms of power that can be used in agricultural production operations. This could mean the use of electric motors and wind pumps as well as the tractor. It often describes the degree of application of external energy by a country's farmers, and is calculated as the ratio of the power available per unit area of land, usually as kilowatts per hectare.
Getting to the real costs
Many are the users of machinery and equipment who complain that the cost of machinery is too high and its utilization too low. They suggest the cost of a machine should be reduced by expanding its use to non-agricultural operations.
Herein lies a clue to mechanization's bad name among farmers, planners, governments, banks and aid agencies. They fail to consider that the high cost of agricultural machinery is unlikely to be reduced by using it as well for such vital - but non-revenue-generating - social services as rural transport. Only if realistic charges are made for the additional services will they reduce unit costs.
The misunderstanding goes deeper. The real problem is not necessarily underutilizing the machinery, but undervaluing the crops produced with the help of the machinery. Farmers are expected to produce low-cost food for the urban population, but agricultural machinery is expensive to own and operate, and its cost must be offset by the prices paid the farmer for the food the machinery helps produce.
If crop prices can't rise but must remain fairly stable, then there must be an increase in production, either by cultivating more hectares or increasing productivity per hectare. It is in giving the farmer and the farmer's family the ability to increase the area cultivated that the more obvious benefits of increased power become apparent. To boost productivity per hectare requires greater attention to growing crops and more inputs such as weeding, fertilizers and improved seeds. Machinery can provide timeliness of operation only when the additional power available is used effectively.
Too often in the past, planners have underestimated the cost of agricultural machinery, making it appear worthwhile in situations where its operation was not viable without subsidy. The concept of depreciation is a leading culprit in under-costing equipment, making it appear more affordable than it really is. Depreciation is a basic factor used in calculating machinery costs, yet has little to do with the real cost of owning or operating it. Calculations of depreciation were first introduced to regularize allowances against tax liability in developed countries. But a farmer's tractor or implement is a production resource in the same way as fertilizer or pesticides. Why should its cost be calculated differently?
Machinery and equipment costs are often figured as if capital had no earning potential and inflation did not exist. Calculations are usually made at constant prices and using free capital, both of which lead to misleading results over a set period. The real cost to a farmer who owns and operates a tractor and set of implements is the loss of the earnings he has used to purchase, hire or lease, to maintain and to operate the equipment over a period, compared with the earnings he would have had over the same period without the equipment. If there is no subsidy, the extra revenue generated by the equipment has to cover the losses in revenue the farmer has incurred by buying or renting, maintaining and operating the equipment.
The selection of the right equipment for each farm family is absolutely vital and is possible only if the estimated costs of its use are as realistic and accurate as possible. Methods for calculating costs of machinery and equipment as a cash flow, taking into account local rates of interest on borrowed and invested capital and the effects of inflation, have been worked out to help assess cost in the later stages of planning - provided local data are available.
Energy and fuel
It is generally agreed that a lack of energy is the major factor keeping the small-scale farmer from increasing production and productivity. What is now being debated is what form an increased energy input should take. The two choices for providing energy to mechanize agriculture come down to:
power in a rotating shaft;
a mobile linear force, almost always obtained by converting power in a rotating shaft into
draft force through a wheel in contact with the ground.
Electric motors are limited to providing non-mobile shaft power in a rotating shaft because batteries are too heavy and costly to supply electrical energy to a mobile motor. In the final analysis, the internal combustion engine based on spark or compression ignition combustion processes is likely to remain a main source of additional power for the farmer for years to come.
The search for more economical fuel consumption is leading to lighter vehicles, smaller engines and lower drag factors, all enabling the use of higher gearing. But at the same time, emission control, safety and noise reduction all lead to increased weight, complexity of design and fuel consumption. Because agricultural machines are relatively slow-moving, drag is not a problem, but emission control and the cost of importing fuel are becoming important considerations.
The logical move is to look for alternative fuels to replace or to mix with petrol and diesel. Here, there do not appear to be insurmountable technical problems. With a suitably modified or redesigned engine, it has been demonstrated that sunflower oil or sugar cane could be processed into feasible alternatives to liquid fossil fuels. The Brazilian sugar cane industry produces more energy than it consumes and so has a positive energy output (see Ceres No. 133). It is believed that sunflower production, under favorable circumstances, can also achieve a positive energy output. For other crops, the energy balance is less well-defined and is easily rendered negative by small changes in climatic and soil conditions.
Another consideration is that, at today's prices, vegetable oils are more valuable than mineral oils. A blend of 80 per cent coconut oil and 20 per cent diesel fuel is effective in a diesel engine, provided the engine is fitted with an upgraded fuel filtration system. But, given the relative prices of coconut oil and diesel fuel, selling the coconut oil for other uses provides the grower with a larger income than selling it as fuel. Using alternative fuels for engines developed to operate on mineral-based oils also increases engine deposits, can cause premature mechanical failure and makes increased maintenance necessary.
Down the road
What then is the solution to the problem of providing farmers in developing countries with more power?
The jobs that demand the most energy in crop production are soil tillage and crop weeding. It also takes considerable energy to transform crops into human food, and this processing usually falls to the women of the family, who already have the responsibility for housekeeping, child care and field work. The energy requirement for these tasks cannot be avoided, but it would be unrealistic to suggest that increased farm power for small-scale farmers in the developing countries must be based only on motorized mechanization and liquid fossil fuel energy. Most farmers cannot pay the price, and most governments don't have the foreign exchange.
There are, however, actions that the governments of developing countries and international organizations can take to help farmers mechanize. The first step is for governments to formulate national agricultural mechanization strategies that will rationalize the role of all forms of mechanization technology in agricultural development. Governments should consider:
following the principle of selective mechanization, whereby motorization is reserved foronly the most critical and energy-demanding tasks in target crops and for target farmer groups;
adopting measures to reduce the cost of mechanization in general and motorization in particular. These include improving machinery maintenance and repair, increasing training in machinery operation and management and revising machinery ownership patterns to effect greater efficiency;
supporting establishment and growth of local manufacturing and servicing enterprises to fabricate tools and implements and rebuild worn components in motorized equipment;
improving extension personnel's knowledge of the selection and effective use of mechanization equipment.
There were significant advances in the 1980s in providing motorized mechanization to small-scale farmers in many developing countries, particularly in Asia. Faster action over a wider area is needed if the farmers of the developing world are to have the power they need to meet national food production goals and overall rural development objectives - but not wholesale action. It must always be remembered that no two farming families are identical, either in their potential for increasing production or in their motivation to overcome the power constraints affecting their farming operations.
Getting the most from hand-tool technology is more than a
question of implement design
by K.V. Vanek
More than 90 per cent of African and 60 per cent of Latin American farmers have little or no access to any mechanical energy source but their own muscles. Their extremely low incomes make buying even the simplest implement a major investment - and the number of such farmers is increasing.
As a result, governments in developing countries are being forced to focus more and more sharply on the question: "How can farming systems based chiefly on hand-tool technology boost productivity in a sustainable way, and what inputs are needed to help the process along?"
Simply giving lip-service to the need for "appropriate technology", or calling for a vaguely general "improvement" in tool and implement design won't do much to answer this urgent question. Specific technologies and inputs must be developed for specific situations, taking into account a whole web of factors that affect tool use.
Only when the constraints and advantages of each context are understood can the kind of improvements be made - not only in tool design, but in tool choice and employment - that will lead to real production advances.
The main limiting factor in human-powered technology is the fact
that sustainable human energy inputs are very low. The human body can be
compared to a heat engine which uses chemical energy from food as its fuel. This
energy is converted to mechanical work with a limited efficiency: part of the
energy intake must be used for maintenance of the body itself and only the
balance is available for conversion into mechanical work. Under optimum
conditions, human energy conversion efficiency is roughly 20 per cent.
Under the typical tropical conditions of many developing countries (high humidity and high temperature), however, efficiency drops to 10 per cent. This basic limitation is unavoidable, and must be considered in planning.
Most studies of human energy expenditure are expressed in terms of chemical energy expenditure, namely, food energy required to perform a given task. The sustainable human-power potential is quoted at 70 to 500 Watts (FAO, 1991). This corresponds to a net mechanical power of seven to 50 W. assuming a 10 per cent conversion efficiency. Female sustainable power is estimated at 75 per cent, and the power of a child at 50 per cent of that of an adult male.
If a job offers the possibility of alternating between hard and light work, such as pounding grain in a mortar and then sifting, or screening the flour, the hard work done in a relatively short time may equal 70 to 100 W. (As martial arts practitioners are aware, for a brief instant - one second or less - a human can produce power surges of one kilowatt or more.)
The power that can be delivered by farmers is further reduced by the energy conversion factor (always less than 100 per cent) of the tool or simple machine being used, and the efficiency of hand-operated tools can be improved only marginally. The mechanical energy input per unit area of traditional Third World hand-tool technology is approximately 1/50 to 1/100 of the energy input in an industrialized country, where each unit of mechanical energy may be supported by two to four units of additional external inputs (fertilizers, agricultural chemicals, irrigation, etc.).
Even the physical improvement of tools, by using higher-quality materials or more efficient machine parts to make them, can backfire. The "better" tool may cost too much, putting it beyond farmers' pocket-books.
Manpower availability is another key strand in the web. For optimum use of human energy resources, an even distribution of the work load throughout the year is preferable. High-intensity, irrigated paddy rice production with two or three harvests per year provides a close-to-ideal example. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are rain-fed farming systems in arid countries. There, distribution is worst because peak demand is concentrated in a short time, with work loads as much as five times higher than average.
Distribution of work between males and females in traditional societies may further reduce availability of labor during peak seasons.
Given such a multiplicity of factors influencing tool use, to look at the development of human-powered technology as a simple question of tool and implement design - as is done in many development programs - is to ignore reality.
Human-powered agricultural technologies are usually classified by the type of operation they perform - implements for land preparation, sowing and planting, cultivation, harvesting, etc. For purposes of development planning, however, they can be divided according to technical complexity, into three basic groups: (1) simple, rigid tools with no moving parts (hoes, spades, sickles); (2) implements and simple machines for field work; (3) other implements and simple machines for stationary applications.
The scope for possible improvement will vary with each of these groups, according to the social, geographical and other factors that make up the context in which they are used.
Simple tools with no moving parts - A hoe, used for land preparation, ridging, weeding, etc. is a typical example of this kind of tool. Its movement is guided only by human senses, which may result in uneven depth of hoeing, some places being left untreated, or other forms of unequal quality of work. On the other hand, virtually any piece of land can be hoed, regardless of previous preparation. The hoe is the principal tool of traditional farmers using fallow systems and multicropping techniques.
The shape of the blade and length of the handle are usually very specific to a region or a farming operation, and hoes are not manufactured in many sizes. Farmers usually keep a hoe until it wears out completely. A new hoe will be used for land opening by the strongest member of the family, while worn (and thus smaller and lighter) hoes are used by women and children.
The main scope for further development in this category lies in improving the quality of materials and manufacturing methods. However, this should be carried out gradually and in accord with local conditions. Imposing overly-strict quality standards on hand-tools, or imposing less strict standards prematurely, could create negative effects for local, small-scale manufacturers - such as blacksmiths - who would be unable to meet the standards. They might be forced out of the market by larger tool makers, leading to unemployment, or the resulting tools might become too expensive for local people to buy.
Implements and simple machines for field work The difference between a simple hand-tool and a simple implement can be seen in the next step up from the hoe - the hand-wheel hoe. The latter is guided by a wheel, and the depth of cultivation is adjustable, ensuring greater uniformity of work, higher productivity and less fatigue. The wheel-hoe is more specialized than the ordinary hoe, however.
It is designed for inter-row weeding, and the soil must be well prepared and free of stones, tree stumps, etc. before using it.
Another simple implement is the hand-seed drill, which allows the depth of seeding and discharge to be adjusted within certain limits. The operator simply pushes the seeder, observing and checking its function and maintaining a constant distance between rows. Like the wheel-hoe, it is designed for operating on already well prepared land in intensive farming systems.
There is greater scope for further development of implements and simple machines for field work than there is for improvement of simple hand-tools, but such development must be viewed as a complex approach, which includes many inputs. For example, replacement of hand seed broadcasting by hand-seed drilling will increase production only if other inputs are provided. If fields are not sufficiently levelled, use of the "improved" drill could even result in lower production.
Most simple machines for field work are derived from larger machines designed for animal traction or tractors. For example, a one-row seed drill can be a single element from a multi-row machine. This tends to facilitate development, testing and tool evaluation. Simple machines for stationary applications Threshing, grain dehulling/grinding and oil extracting are very tedious operations, normally carried out in developing countries by women.
These traditional operations often result in food losses due to incomplete threshing, etc. Consequently, much effort has been devoted to improving post harvest processes. The grinding of grain in West Africa is an example. Normally, very fine flour from dehulled grain is preferred. The traditional process consists in pounding the grain in a wooden mortar to dehull it, separating the hulls from the grain, and finally grinding the grain by pounding it into flour. Very frequently, the grain has a high-moisture content before it is ground.
Hand-operated machines exist for both dehulling and grinding, and many have been tested for West African "wet grinding". Nevertheless, this technology has not been adopted, for the unexpected but perfectly logical reason that the ancient African wooden mortar is more energy efficient than modern hand-mills. A group of women in Mali, given a choice of using the hand-operated mills or paying fees to use a diesel-powered mill, picked the diesel option. Their second choice was the traditional mortar.
This was, of course, an exceptional situation. In contrast, small hand-mills for grinding roasted peanuts are very energy efficient and relatively cheap, and are consequently very popular in West Africa.
As this brief overview of hand-tools and hand-powered implements demonstrates, the development approach to human-powered agricultural technology must be seen in its complexity, incorporating both the most efficient application of human power as well as additional sources of external energy inputs - whether improved seeds, fertilizers or agricultural chemicals. The social context must also be taken into account. Finally, the possibility of employing additional mechanical energy inputs - such as those produced by draft animals or even tractors - should be considered for some of the most demanding field operations.
All of the strands of the web are interlinked, and must work together.