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close this bookSPORE Bulletin of the CTA No. 52 (CTA Spore, 1994, 16 p.)
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Agricultural machinery - from local forge or foreign factory?

African blacksmiths and engineers are manufacturing agricultural machinery and are helping to decrease reliance on imports. However many obstacles still stand in the way of the successful development of their businesses.

For many years most of the agricultural machinery used in Africa has been manufactured in Europe. But now in many countries, notably Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, cereal grinders, oil presses, decorticators and threshing machines are being made by local engineers. In Senegal, 50 % of grain mills and almost all millet decorticators are of local manufacture. And the implements which are used with draught animals are being made locally in nearly every country in Africa.

International organizations or NGOs often provide support for local engineers in the form of training courses, management support, materials or help with marketing. As a result those who, in the past, produced everything by hand with whatever means they had at their disposal, now use more sophisticated methods to produce power-driven machinery.

Price not the only factor

According to lean-Claude Barneaud, from the Department of Support for Small Enterprises at GRET (Groupe de Recherche et d'Echanges Technologiques), interest in local manufacture of agricultural machinery is not entirely a question of price. Imported machinery costs about the same as locally produced machinery, since local engineers work largely with imported parts for which they are charged a very high price. Furthermore they cannot recover the VAT which in some countries is levied at a high rate. It is too early to say what effect the devaluation of the CFA franc will have in this situation but the economic difficulties experienced in recent years by many African countries has not made things easier. Dealers involved in import-export businesses cannot guarantee to maintain stocks: when a part is required it is usually necessary to put in a special order for an individual item. This is expensive since it does not allow any economies of scale or purchasing power.

On the other hand, according to Jean-Claude Barneaud, there is every reason to encourage growth of a skilled workforce in order to develop local industry and an industrial base to support the economy of the country. This could form the knowledge base for a new technological environment. It has to be accepted that it will be expensive in the early stages and only later will it be possible to see any real economies of scale.

Everyone in Thi Senegal has heard of the workshops of Pen et Frs and knows their reputation as millet grinders. These locally produced mills are now widely distributed and are taking over from imported machines. In addition the workshops make hoes, hoe-forks, milling and threshing machines either made from new materials or from recycled scrap metal, and most are copies of European designs. It is true that there is a lack of expertise and that some products are not of the highest quality, but since they cost less, people can afford to buy them. There seems to be a balance between supply and demand.

Creating a favorable environment

Local manufacture of agricultural machinery can be encouraged by a more favorable legal and economic environment. Many engineers working in the informal sector have shown a business ability which brings them into the category of SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises). However they do not enjoy the same fiscal and legal advantages as the SMEs.

There are those who are not keen to encourage the development of local engineering because imported goods are heavily taxed and are a good source of revenue. It is unfortunate that many projects issue invitations to overseas suppliers to tender for agricultural equipment when engineering workshops in the region could fulfil the orders. It is worth remembering that projects are exempted from paying Customs Duty and many of their staff find it more reassuring and comfortable to do business with a reputable foreign company than to negotiate with local engineers who will have problems of credit, working capital and supply of spares to resolve.

"In all our operations we try to introduce a marketing procedure," says Jean-Claude Barneaud. "We identify potentially viable markets and we try to supply a support system for local engineers and craftsmen which gives them the advice they need to gain access to markets, to credit, to information and to training. These days, the women in the urban areas of Thi have little time to pound millet. A study has shown that the cost of traditionally produced pounded millet is 25 FF/kg whereas flour produced mechanically costs 10 or 15 FF/kg. An experiment to gauge the reaction of rural women to a number of different decorticators has shown that they are happy to accept both the machine and the processed millet. Some time after the research it became apparent that local agricultural engineers had received orders for over 100 decorticators from private buyers.

We are trying to encourage a commercial attitude, which responds to the laws of the market and to competition. Each country must develop its own speciality which should not be copied but sold to neighbouring countries in order to encourage regional integration."