A woman entrepreneur in Zambia attending a four-wheel tractor (4WT) operator and agribusiness training course.
Photo: B. G. Sims


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The world’s smallholder farmers will have to bear the brunt of the need to increase food production for a growing world population. At the same time, the rural population is expected to decline substantially in the coming decades. The only way to master this challenge is with the aid of mechanisation – which simultaneously has to be environmentally compatible, climate-smart, adapted to local conditions and affordable. Can this work?

Mechanisation is a crucial input into agricultural crop production and one that has historically been neglected in the context of developing country agriculture. Increasing the power supply to agriculture means that more tasks can be completed at the right time and greater areas can be farmed to produce greater quantities of crops. Innovation in mechanisation also means that new technologies can be employed to produce crops more efficiently by using less power. The prime example of this approach is reduced and no-till farming as traditional soil preparation practices, using ploughs of various types, are extremely energy demanding (and damaging to agricultural soils). The urgency of addressing the issue of farm power paucity is brought into sharp focus by the projections of world population and rural-urban migration. The global population (currently 7.31 billion) is on track to reach nine billion by 2050 and exceed eleven billion by the end of the century.

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