Mechanisation of agriculture can drive rural employment in Africa, says new report

Experts during the launch of the report


A new report showcasing evidence to guide African governments in successfully mechanising Africa’s agribusiness value chains was launched in Lilongwe on Tuesday by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, a group of 17 African and international experts.

The Malabo Montpellier Panel compiles policies and investments necessary to successfully mechanise African agricultural value chains.

Currently, around 85 percent of farm activity in Africa is carried out manually – this includes ploughing, seeding and mowing. Animal-power accounts for around 25 percent of land preparation, while engine-powered machines currently provide just 10 percent of the total power.

According to the report, launched in Lilongwe on Tuesday, the African food and beverage market is projected to reach $1 trillion by 2030.

“Thanks to advances in renewable energy and digital technology, Africa could leapfrog the stages of technological development other regions have had to undertake, making its mechanisation process both swift and extremely lucrative,” according to the report.

The report addresses concerns that the mechanisation of African agriculture could diminish employment opportunities.

Currently, urban labour markets are breaking under the pressures of young people migrating from rural areas into cities.  By 2030, it is projected that the number of youth in Africa will have increased by 42 percent. An estimated 30 million young people will join the employment market every year.

Experts during the launch of the report
Experts during the launch of the report


“Our report busts the myth that mechanisation of African agriculture will be labour replacing. When done right, it can be employment enhancing,” commented Ousmane Badiane, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel. “Rural employment is critical for reducing poverty, migration and political instability, making mechanisation a smart investment for peace and security goals as well.”

The launch of the report, entitled “Mechanised – Transforming Africa’s Agriculture Value Chains”, took place at the Malabo Montpellier Forum in Lilongwe, which gathered African ministers and other high level officials to reflect on its findings.

“African policymakers are eager to deliver on mechanization suitable for their farming communities,” commented Malawi Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Forum. “This report provides us with the evidence we need to shape the strategies that will make Africa a place where agribusiness, and those who invest in it can thrive.”

“Mechanisation is more than tractors,” commented Joachim von Braun, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel. “This report emphasizes investment opportunities along the entire agricultural value chain – from small farm production, to processing, to transport and storage.”

“This will reduce the tremendous food losses and counter rising African food imports. Rural youth demand mechanization to reduce the burden of manual work. If they do not get these opportunities, they will continue to walk away,” he added.

Analysis of the policies and investments made by seven African countries determined to be at the forefront of mechanisation are a key feature of the report. Ethiopia, Morocco, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia have all shown strong growth in both mechanisation and agricultural output. Their experience shows that African countries can start to close the large gaps between themselves and other developing regions.

Successful mechanisation will be key to tackling major challenges on the continent, from spiralling food import costs to rampant rural unemployment.

The seven recommendations set out by the report are: Develop national agricultural mechanisation investment plans that form part of countries’ National Agriculture Investment Plans, Focus on mechanisation pathways and strategies that generate new employment opportunities, Prioritise mechanisation along the entire food value chain, not just at production level, Invest in supporting infrastructure, such as irrigation systems and electricity grids, Incentivise the private sector to invest in mechanisation through tax waivers and smart subsidies, Use public-private partnerships to develop local machinery industries to ensure the technology is affordable and appropriate and Provide localised services that match farmer demand with appropriate technologies.

The Malabo Montpellier Panel consists of 17 leading African and international experts working promote evidence and dialogue to help advance the African under the Malabo Declaration's expanded Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

It is hosted by the West and Central African Office of the International Food Policy Research Institute, the University of Bonn and Imperial College London and is headquartered in Dakar Senegal.  It is co-chaired by Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director at IFPRI and Professor Joachim von Braun, Director, Center for Development Research, University of Bonn.

The Malabo Montpellier Forum provides a platform for decision makers at the highest level of government to review the evidence on progress that is being achieved on the ground towards meeting key agriculture and food security goals and exchange on lessons and strategies to foster positive change across all African countries. Meetings of the Forum are guided by the technical reports prepared by the members of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.

It is co-chaired by Chilima and Abdoulaye Bio Tchané, Minister of State for Planning and Development of the Republic of Benin.