Few operators have formal training. Most of them learn from the “master” while sitting on the back of the tractor as a “boy”.
Photo: T. Daum


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Demand for mechanisation is growing again in many African countries. Not only has this been recognised by development cooperation and the private sector. Governments are launching corresponding programmes, too. But have lessons been learnt from the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s, when state-led mechanisation efforts failed miserably? And what organisational concepts are needed to support sustainable mechanisation which also benefits small farmers? The author describes experiences in Ghana.

Whereas many regions in the developing world have made substantial progress in mechanisation during the last decades, sub-Saharan-Africa is characterised by persistent low levels of mechanisation (1.3 tractors in use per 1,000 ha). This is remarkable because the spread of mechanisation was taken for granted in the 1960s. Both colonial and newly independent countries spent large amounts importing tractors, providing hire services and running state farms. In their efforts, they were assisted by bi- and multilateral aid agreements. However, despite high hopes and big efforts mechanisation rates did not increase sustainably, and these efforts “produced a miserable track record” (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). Why did these schemes fail so miserably?

Lessons from the past

Ghana may serve as an example. The government imported 10,000 tractors between the 1960s and the 1980s. Most tractors were sooner or later abandoned as qualified operators, technicians and fuel were missing.

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