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Farm power: developing countries predicted to demand tractors despite obstacles. (ASAE 2002: Engineering for a Sustainable World).

Editor's Note: This topic was part of a special joint ASAE/CIGR Session on Agricultural Engineering and International Development in the Third Millennium.

Power. Its availability is a prerequisite for any agricultural activity whether the source is human, animal or motorized.

During the past few years, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been gathering information on the different sources of farm power in developing countries. The objective is to generate a global picture of the present situation, project potential changes during the next 20 to 30 years and identify which factors will influence these changes.

Currently in most developing countries, people are a major source of farm power. This will change. Overall, the land cultivated by farm tractors is expected to increase more than 50 percent during the next several decades. However, can this increase be maintained? Looming factors such as political and economic instability, high population growth rates and disease could hinder progress.

Present picture

In developing countries, land preparation represents one of the most significant uses of power and is usually one of the first tasks to benefit from additional power inputs. So initially, FAO has examined only farm power used for field cultivations; no attempt has been made to build a total farm picture -- and extremely complicated task and data is not readily available. As a basis, countries were classified into different grouping according to the proportion of land cultivated by the three main sources of farm power.

The world map (Figure 1) shows individual countries assessed according to the farm power typology in use (developing countries excluding China and South Africa). Figure 2 shows on a regional basis the overall percentage usage of all three sources of power -- human, draught animal power (DAP) and tractor -- which are widely used and widely dispersed. However, the use of the different sources and the extent to which they contribute to agricultural production varies not only from region to region, but also within a region. Even within individual countries considerable differences exist. Some areas might use DAP and in other areas farmers will rely solely on manual methods. The reasons for these differences are complex but are generally related to cultural, climatic and economic factors.

As an example, in Sub-Saharan Africa (see Figure 1) humans are the principal power source, cultivating around two-thirds of the area. However, there are regional differences, with manual power dominant in the central region, draught animals used to a greater extent in Western and Eastern Africa and an increasing use of tractors in Southern Africa. In Asia, one-third of the land is prepared by draught animals while tractors are a significant source of farm power in much of Central and South America and the Caribbean. The use of tractors is also well established in the Near East and in North Africa.

An analysis of several socioeconomic parameters indicates common characteristics for the different farm power typologies. For example, in areas dominated by hand power, the economy relies on the agricultural sector, which typically employs more than two-thirds of the workforce, generates over one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP) and contributes less than $500 of income per capita.

Areas dominated by tractor power have substantially different parameters: agriculture is no longer the dominant sector, employing less than half of the workforce and generating less than one-quarter of GDP. Usually, these economies are more buoyant and incomes per capita are at least three times higher than in the hand-power and DAP countries within the same region. Also, the rate of growth in the agricultural workforce is low and in some countries the absolute number of people working in agriculture has started to decrease.

It is interesting to note that this is often considered to be one of the more significant turning points in the process of economic development. It is also interesting that in both Africa and Asia, the area cultivated per person working in agriculture in countries where tractors are dominant is substantially higher than in those countries that rely predominantly on manual power and DAP.

Despite the reliance on manual power in many countries, tractors are a significant power source in many parts of the developing world. High levels of mechanization are generally associated with relatively well-developed economies and the production of cash crops. Nonagricultural revenues can stimulate their adoption; for example, the oil wealth in several countries in the Near East and North Africa, or remittances from expatriate workers in some Southern African countries. In the Near East and North Africa, mechanized farming occurs in irrigation schemes and is becoming increasingly important in rain-fed agriculture. In Central and South America, much of the cash crop production is fully mechanized in the irrigated and coastal-plantation farming systems. Tractors are used extensively in the rice-farming systems throughout South and East Asia.

Future changes

When looking at whether countries will change their inputs of farm power (particularly changes toward increased investment in tractors) the following table summarizes indicators of change:
 cultivation systems

GDP per capita > US$ 3,000

Energy consumption > 2,500 calories daily
per capita

Contribution of the < 20% GDP
agricultural sector to < 40% of export earnings
the economy < 30% of manufacturing GDP

Proportion of the < 50%
economically active
population working
in agriculture

Proportion of arable High
land in cultivation

Proportion of High (70%)
potentially irrigable (35% in Asia)
land under cultivation

Area cultivated per > 2.5 acres (1 hectare)
person working in of harvested area

 Predominantly hand-
 power systems

GDP per capita < US$ 1,000

Energy consumption < 2,000 calories daily
per capita

Contribution of the < 40% GDP
agricultural sector to < 70% of export earnings
the economy < 40% of manufacturing GDP

Proportion of the > 80%
economically active
population working
in agriculture

Proportion of arable Relatively low
land in cultivation

Proportion of Low (20% in Africa)
potentially irrigable
land under cultivation

Area cultivated per < 1.2 - 1.7 acres (0.5-0.7
person working in hectare) of harvested area

For developing countries in general, the projected changes in the use of the three different forms of farm power are given in Figures 3 and 4. Overall, the use of tractors will increase from approximately a third of the cultivated area to more than 50 percent. This will mainly replace manual methods and also to a lesser extent, DAP. By 2030, tractors are expected to be the dominant source of power for land preparation in North Africa, the Near East, South and East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Southeast Asia is also expected to shift from draught animals to making greater use of tractors.

However, in a few countries, it is expected that the present composition of farm power inputs will not be sustainable. In East Africa, for example, the number of draught animals has been decimated in some areas due to livestock disease and cattle rustling. During the next 30 years, some countries will revert from tractors to increasing use of hand or draught animal power. This will occur where access to fuel and inputs is becoming increasingly difficult, agriculture is not profitable enough, and government-based initiatives for introducing mechanization are not compatible with economic development and political stability.

Based on historic and present trends, FAO's assessment is that two-thirds of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa will probably not significantly change their mix of farm power inputs for land preparation between now and 2030. Although there may be some modest movements in the relative contributions between hand, animals and tractors, it is expected that most countries will remain within their original farm-power typology. This is particularly marked among countries relying on hand and animal power. The greatest change is expected among countries already making significant use of tractors. However, some countries might be unable to maintain their present tractor fleet due to the poor outlook for economies and an uncertain political environment.

Another factor driving the process of change in Eastern and Southern Africa will be the impact of HIV/AIDS on the workforce. Those countries that are expected to switch from hand power to DAP are projected to lose almost 20 percent of their agricultural labor by 2020, which is more than twice as much as in those countries continuing to use hand power. Similarly, those countries shifting from DAP to tractors are expected to experience higher losses in their labor force (12 percent by 2020) than countries continuing with DAP. Some of the highest losses (16 percent by 2020) are projected for countries already making significant use of tractors. Thus, if agricultural production is even to remain stable, the impact of HIV/AIDS will make it vital for farmers in many countries to change their agricultural production systems -- through farm power shifts or other alternatives such as conservation tillage -- to overcome serious labor shortages at critical times of the farming year.

In Asia, economic growth and industrialization, which will increase wage rates and draw labor from agriculture, will also stimulate greater use of tractors especially in irrigated farming. The process of mechanization will be facilitated in this region by the development of local manufacturing capacity and the proximity in the region of manufacturers, namely India and China.

More power, more production

In developing countries, particularly those relying predominately on manual sources of farm power, one of the main constraints to increased agricultural production is a shortage of farm power. The analysis of the current use of different sources of farm power and future projections demonstrate a strong association between economic growth and the use of specific inputs. Effective demand for agricultural products, generated by a growing urban population, high incomes per capita, off-farm employment opportunities and rising wage rates, create both the need and opportunity for farmers to switch their sources of farm power. Political stability and a dynamic infrastructure responsive to the changing needs of the farming community are essential for their sustained use. Poverty and high-population growth rates, particularly when accompanied by political instability, act as brakes on this process of change.

To date, most of the change in the composition of farm power has taken place with respect to changing the principal power source associated with land preparation. As one of the most time-consuming and arduous tasks, it is often the first to benefit from additional inputs of power. Similar patterns of change have occurred with stationary power operations, such as lifting water and grinding food, switching from hand power to simple engines. Opportunities to substitute power sources in more technically complex operations, such as transplanting, weeding and harvesting, will be dependent on continued economic growth, the profitability of the agricultural sector and the availability of different sources of farm power and their relative costs.

Of particular concern are many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where populations are rising, particularly in the urban areas, and where growth in food production is not keeping up with population growth. In many of these countries the rural population is increasingly heavily hit by HIV/AIDS, decimating the farm labor base. Given the present economic conditions in many of these countries, and with the present apparent low priority of agriculture (both nationally and internationally), it is questionable as to whether the required increases in farm power to maintain and increase crop production can be realized. This issue needs to be urgently addressed so that innovative ways of providing additional sources of power can be found.


Figure 2

Proportion of land cultivated by different sources of farm power --

 Tractor DAP Hand

Near East and North Africa 60 20 20
Latin America and Caribbean 50 25 25
S. Asia 40 30 30
E. Asia 20 40 40
Sub-Saharan Africa 10 25 65

Note: Table made from bar graph

ASAE member Lawrence Clarke is Chief of the Agricultural Engineering Branch (AGSE), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy; 0039 06 57054097, fax 0039 06 57056798, Lawrence.

Clare Bishop is a Consultant Agricultural Economist, AGSE; 0039 07 61402838, fax 0039 06 57056798,
COPYRIGHT 2002 American Society of Agricultural Engineers
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:American Society of Agricultural Engineers conference, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations research
Author:Clarke, Lawrence; Bishop, Clare
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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