Home » Why Mechanisation is Focal in Transforming Africa’s Agricultural Landscape (Part Two)

Why Mechanisation is Focal in Transforming Africa’s Agricultural Landscape (Part Two)

by Agritech Digest
Combine harvesters for mechanisation Agritech Digest

It is important to note that mechanised systems such as those used for planting, weeding, agro-chemical application, harvesting, sorting, grading, drying, cleaning, and milling, allow for systematic operations with less human error.

By Oyewole Okewole

In the first part of this two-part series, we discussed the low mechanisation rate in developing regions, especially Africa. In this article, we will focus on specific ways mechanisation can improve the current status of production in Africa. This article will also highlight examples of available mechanised technologies and their application in selected value chains.

One reason for mechanisation is increased productivity. Mechanisation not only makes work easier; fewer people will be needed to produce the same amount of output than with subsistence farming. For example, operations become more productive when planting and harvest time is reduced, with less number of people required to do the task. 

Another significant relevance of mechanisation is that of increased yields. Africa is characterised by the lowest yield per production area of various agricultural systems. For example, the average yield of rice on the continent is 2.1 tonnes/ha which sits below the global average of 3.9 tonnes/ha, and maize at 2 tonnes/ha, also below the global average of about 5.8 tonnes/ha. Apart from implementing poor agronomic practices, this low yield can be attributed to the low adoption of mechanisation and the prevalence of subsistence farming. It is important to note that mechanised systems such as those used for planting, weeding, agro-chemical application, harvesting, sorting, grading, drying, cleaning, and milling, allow for systematic operations with less human error.

Mechanisation plays a critical role in agricultural production and post-harvest operations. Production principally entails all activities and mechanisms that are concerned with soil cultivation, planting, growing crops, rearing, feeding and managing animals, and extends to other areas of agriculture like aquaculture, floriculture, silviculture, horticulture, apiculture and many others.

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On the other hand, post-harvest operations refer to activities that take place at harvesting and after. It also involves various processing activities for crops, livestock, fish, and aquatic animals for human consumption, feed for animals, fibre, and other products for industries and fuel for energy. Post-harvest operations are initiated to improve and maintain the quality of the commodity, increase its shelf life, and make the final product available to consumers or end-users in the most desirable form. 

In light of this, it is important to note that there are focal (staple) crops and livestock in Africa. These staples are critical due to their importance in defining the agricultural landscape in Africa. Some of these produce are heavily cultivated in terms of land mass and area, yet with low production yields due to limited mechanisation options. Other limiting factors include low value-chain addition and processing options which has resulted in poor agricultural industrialisation. Grains such as rice, maize, millet, sorghum, wheat, and root crops like cassava and yam, are major crops consumed in Africa, while livestock like poultry, goats, and cattle are central to the agricultural landscape in the continent. 

(Read also: How Well Are Advancing Technologies in Agriculture Being Globally Adopted?)

Mechanisation can increase the production outcomes of these staples in Africa. In the next section, we shall highlight some of these ways,

1. The use of combine harvesters 

Also called combines, these are complex, versatile on-field harvesting machinery that utilises mechanical power to cut and thresh cereals and other grains. They principally harvest, clean, and sort cereals like rice, maize, millet, sorghum, wheat and other non-grain crops like soybean. Mechanisation comes into play by combining three to four process operations under compact equipment in a continuous manner. The operations work in designed synchrony, hence the word, combine. A combine harvester for the harvesting of rice for example, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), can vary from 2-15 hours per hectare, depending on harvesting conditions amongst many other factors, while with human input, about 80-160 hours per hectare is required to harvest the same field. Combine harvesting comes with an increased yield from about 350 to 800kg of paddy an hour, with grain losses lower than 3%. 

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Combine Harvester

Source: Unsplash

2. Processing of cassava roots to sorbitol

Cassava roots remain one of the root crops that has the potential to conveniently play as both food and an industrial crop. The importance of cassava to the socioeconomic development of rural agrarian communities has gained recognition in the last 40 years, however, the processing of its by-products into secondary and tertiary products has largely remained very low on the continent. One such product is sorbitol. Sorbitol readily absorbs moisture and therefore can replace glycerine in the manufacture of toothpaste, cosmetics and oil-based paints.  It can also be used as a raw material in the production of vitamin C by fermentation. To produce sorbitol from cassava, glucose produced from cassava chips is hydrogenised under high pressure into liquid sorbitol. The liquid is concentrated to 98 Brix, after which seed crystals are introduced. The liquid sorbitol is subsequently spray-dried and crystallised to make it solid. The process requires different forms of mechanised equipment, from the production of cassava to starch to glucose, and then to sorbitol. The entire process involves electro-mechanical and biochemical systems. 

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First African Cassava –Based Sorbitol Factory in Nigeria.

Source: Business Day, Nigeria

(Read also: The Future of Food Production is Promising with These Innovative Advancing Technologies)

3. Poultry Processing

Poultry birds such as broilers can be processed using mechanised equipment. The processes are broadly categorised into reception and slaughter, cleaning and evisceration, processing and preparation, and packaging and shipping. Some fully mechanised and automatic operations can conveniently process up to 50,000 broiler chickens per day depending on the capacity of the equipment, with limited human contact needed, so as to minimise contamination from microorganisms such as salmonella infection. This is in contrast to a manual processing plant that can process at most, 500 broiler chickens per day, depending on the size of labour.
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15,000 birds per hour Poultry Processing Plant. Photo: Marel

Source: Poultry World 

Cover photo credit: Agroriches

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