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Mechanization to increase yields, decrease post-harvest loss, and improve quality of life
At Global Harvest Initiative, we believe that the right policies and investments can improve productivity throughout the value chain and that appropriate technology improvements empower the smallholder farmer. Some of these improvements include information to support better agricultural decisions, improvements in post-harvest technologies, and the adoption of current animal- and crop-based technologies and practices.
Greater use of machine labor at the farm level, in processing, and transportation has the potential to increase yields and decrease post-harvest loss. The result will be improvements in the quality of life for farmers and communities all over the world.
The United Nations FAO finds that most farmers in developing countries experience a greater annual expenditure on farm power inputs than on fertilizer, seeds or agrochemicals. Households in sub-Saharan Africa using farm-power technologies other than a hoe gain significant advantages: area cultivated, crop diversity, yields, levels of drudgery, opportunities to redeploy family labor, and household food security.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) developed a hand-held, low-till seeder, ideal for small fields in areas where farmers currently scatter seeds over the soil. Use of the seeder helps ensure proper plant spacing and higher yields.
New access to mechanization benefits the machine owner, but the effects spillover into their communities as owners generate more income through greater productivity and offer services to neighbors who may be unable to afford to own the equipment.
Farmers in Nepal traditionally thresh rice by having the cows used to plow the field walk over the stalks, Small, mobile threshing services are reducing post-harvest losses from an estimated 30-50% with the traditional method down to less than 20%.
In India, where the average farm is about three acres, large farm equipment is impractical due to its size and its price for smallholder farmers with limited access to financing. In 2010, GHI member company John Deere introduced small, 36- to 41-horsepower, tractors in India.
I recently traveled to the Philippines where the government is leading the region in creating a regulatory system that supports agriculture technology. In the 1990s, the Philippines had one of the lowest rates of mechanical equipment use in Southeast Asia, about 0.5 horsepower per hectare (hp/ha), less than most American kitchen blenders. As of a December 2012 survey by the Philippine Center for Mechanization and Postharvest Development (PhilMech), the Philippines mechanization level is on par with Pakistan and India, about 1 hp/ha, and could double to 2 hp/ha by 2014. Rice cultivation areas were already reaching 1.60 hp/ha at the end of 2012.
Appropriate use of mechanization increases productivity along the entire value chain, improving yields and reducing on-farm and post-harvest loss, all critical elements in the sustainable intensification of agriculture. By implementing the right policies, engaging the private sector, research and development, trade, and effective international development, smallholder producers can play a vital role in feeding the world.