The key to Africa’s agricultural future is technology—and the first step is access to mechanization.
Farmers in the developed world wouldn’t know what to do without their tractors and other farm equipment. They certainly couldn’t cultivate large plots of land and it would be much more difficult to achieve their amazing levels of productivity.
Things are different across much of Africa. The farmers who dominate agriculture on our continent have very limited resources available to support their home or farm, live in rural areas with few roads and less infrastructure, and work in fields so small that to American and European farmers they must look like gardens.
For these food producers, “farm equipment” means basic tools such as shovels, sticks, ox ploughs, and hoes. Anything that involves machinery is an unaffordable luxury item.
I’m trying to change that with my Uganda-based business. Africa Agribusiness Services Limited provides a variety of services, but one of the most important is access to the fundamental technology of farm mechanization.
In partnership with Hello Tractor, we are enabling small holder farmers across Africa to access mechanization. Think of this as an Uber for tractors. We also manufacture and supply affordable agriculture equipment such as silos, hullers, cleaners, oil presses and threshers.
As a farmer who rears poultry, goats, and cattle and grows coffee, I know firsthand the challenges of raising animals and crops. As a resident of Uganda’s capital city of Kampala and a veteran traveler in my region, I know the troubles of other farmers.
I also see the big picture of African agriculture. In summary, it’s disturbing. We are the least food-secure people on the planet. We badly lag the rest of the world in food production. We aren’t even keeping pace with population growth. Africa is the only continent where the absolute number of malnourished people in the last three decades has increased.
For some people, these are reasons for despair.
When I look at these grim facts and figures, however, I think to myself: We have a remarkable capacity to improve.
Here’s another statistic that gets to the heart of Africa’s agricultural opportunity: Our continent is home to 60 percent of the world’s unused arable land.
That means we have a lot of room for growth.
Realizing our full potential will demand a wide range of solutions. Africans need stable governments, the rule of law, and better access to finance. We also require the ability to use the seed technologies that have improved farming around the world. Kenya’s recent embrace of GM seed technology is a big step in the right direction. Public officials in other African nations should follow its lead.
African farmers also must have mechanization. This innovation may be more important than all the others because access to machinery often is the difference between subsistence farming and commercial farming. It both boosts farm productivity, reduces post-harvest losses, and lowers human drudgery, making agriculture a profitable and enjoyable business.
This is where the partnership of our company and Hello Tractor comes in. When we study the challenges of smallholder farmers, we don’t see impoverished people who are just surviving. Instead, we see future tractor owners—and our mission is to turn them into actual tractor owners who prosper.
This intervention provides training opportunities so they can learn the skills they need to operate these tools and make ownership achievable through appropriate financing. This partnership has created an Uber for agriculture in Uganda!
We work internationally as well, with projects in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and elsewhere. In addition, we manufacture storage, processing, and irrigation equipment.
There is no greater reward than watching our fellow farmers flourish—and since we started our work in 2013, we’ve seen it happen over and over again as thousands of farmers have discovered the incredible benefits of machinery.
As they’ve boosted their yields and increased their profits, they’ve come to see farming not as a brutal necessity but rather as a profession that can help them earn a decent living.
Along the way, they’re giving African agriculture a genuine future.
It starts with access to basic technology.