In Africa, agriculture still all too often boils down to hard manual labour. Only very few farmers have access to agricultural machinery. Fuel for old diesel tractors is expensive and can often be hard to come by in many regions. With more modern machinery, however, people would be able to cultivate larger areas of land much more effectively. This would mean less work, higher yields and better income for farmers. Given the growing population and the impacts of climate change, it is essential to find solutions that are efficient, future-proof and environmentally friendly.
One solution here is electric tractors. So far, they have not been available to many farmers in Africa: This is why Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, working on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ), has been cooperating with Volkswagen and the University of Rwanda since early 2021 on researching and developing a new electric tractor for Africa. The tractor, which was fitted with an electric motor and backup battery at Volkswagen’s plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, is initially being tested in Rwanda. It is designed to meet local requirements and to cultivate larger areas more effectively. At the same time, it is hoped that the modern machine will encourage more young people in particular to work in the agricultural sector, which could create higher employment in rural areas.
A local photovoltaic system produces electricity for the innovative tractor. Not only does the system provide only clean energy, but it will also supply surrounding villages with climate-friendly power. Hopes are high that the first practical trials in the field will produce promising results. These trials could later form the basis for the large-scale production of the tractors.
The environmentally friendly approach has also impressed Dr Bernard Munyazikwiye, lecturer at the University of Rwanda. “We need to do things differently if we want to modernise our agricultural sector and make it as climate-neutral as possible,” Munyazikwiye says. “It is important for us to find practical solutions that meet the needs of local people. That’s exactly what our project aims to achieve.”
It is not only the drive system of the e-tractor that is innovative, but also the way the vehicle will be distributed. The plan is for it to benefit entire village communities rather than just individual farms. It will be purchased by the community and managed cooperatively – farmers will be able to book it via an app for use in their fields. This tractor-sharing scheme is going to allow far more people to benefit from the new technology as it will be a community investment. In this way, the transformation of the African agricultural sector will not only protect the climate, but also foster social cohesion.
The first phase of the pilot project comes to an end in September 2022. If the results are positive, the agricultural machine could go into large-scale production, primarily in Africa, from 2024 onwards. The long-term goal is for electric tractors to replace conventional diesel models on the continent.