Mechanization fuels rural opportunities across the globe

Appropriate mechanization can support the sustainable intensification of agri-food systems, helping to improve resource (soil, labor, water) use and providing social benefits like increased income, employment, food security, and less drudgery.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and partners design and test machinery and implements, train and support local manufacturers, work with extension agents and farmers in machinery use, and promote financial and rental services and farmer cooperatives. In Mexico, this has included the creation of machinery points: central locations from which farmers and entrepreneurs can borrow implements in return for providing mechanization services to other farmers. The aims of CIMMYT support include increasing the performance and efficiency of farm activities, creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to make rural livelihoods more sustainable, fostering agriculture-led industrialization and markets for rural economic growth, and improving the quality of primary and processed goods.

Here CIMMYT researchers reflect on the opportunities associated with the adoption of agricultural mechanization in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Frédéric Baudron

Cropping systems agronomist, sustainable intensification program, CIMMYT-Zimbabwe

CIMMYT efforts to promote mechanization have created rural job opportunities in eastern and southern Africa, where many struggle with high unemployment and poverty. Dozens of providers, both individuals and groups, have offered mechanization services such as tillage or shelling maize on contract in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. In Tanzania, the average income from contract mechanization was $6,100 in 2017. One service provider in Mbeya district shelled 100 tons in 2 months using a sheller designed by CIMMYT and its partners powered by a two-wheel tractor, earning $5,000. Evidence is accumulating regarding the benefits that agricultural mechanization for hire is having on rural livelihoods in all four counties.

Timothy Krupnik

Cropping systems agronomist, CSISA, CIMMYT-Bangladesh

Our work differs from farm mechanization research in developed countries, in that it focuses on offering solutions to the production problems of smaller-scale farmers with low investment capacities, who tend to grow crops on fragmented plots of land and face critical production risks. CIMMYT is increasingly a one-stop-shop for expertise in smallholder-appropriate farm mechanization.

The machinery options we work with in South Asia respond to increasingly severe rural labor bottlenecks that prevent smallholders from intensifying their cropping systems. In addition to being agronomically beneficial, the machines we focus on are designed to be affordable and ergonomic and can be scaled-out to farmers through commercial and rural service pathways. Many of these machines also reduce fuel use and allow farmers to conserve agricultural resources like soil, thereby mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Scott Justice

Rural mechanization specialist, CIMMYT-Nepal

Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and increasingly Nepal provide good illustrations of how small, fragmented, and even mountain farms can be mechanized and achieve productivity gains, if policies support fair access to scale-appropriate agricultural machinery services. Besides increased productivity, mechanization is often accompanied by increased cropping intensity. While drudgery reduction always seems to come last in the literature on the benefits of agri-mechanization, it is an equally important outcome, particularly to reduce outmigration in Nepal.

We are beginning to see instances of younger and even educated members of households who are less inclined to migrate for work, while conversely mechanization is allowing greater time for off-farm income generation.

Carolina Camacho

Post-doctoral fellow - social science, socioeconomics program, CIMMYT-Mexico

In the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, a region where smallholders predominate, mechanization has played a key role in the development of a group of crop and livestock producers. With support and training from CIMMYT, they have organized more productively and now offer custom services using machinery, purchasing and marketing harvests, and providing technical advice. CIMMYT’s efforts have complemented local initiatives to develop farmer organizations and provide access to affordable financing, helping to give farmers a stronger voice in regional affairs and creating a cascade of innovation.

Jelle Van Loon

Mechanization specialist, Latin America, sustainable intensification program, CIMMYT-Mexico

The diverse landscape of farmer conditions in Latin America demands a broad strategy and an integrated approach to facilitate improved farming practices. Besides research and development on functional machinery innovations, we conduct user-specific trainings and foster direct access to appropriate tools.

Through MasAgro, a long-term sustainable intensification project involving CIMMYT and Mexico’s agricultural secretariat, SAGARPA, we have advised and trained 17 metal workshops as providers of innovative, tailor-made farm equipment, and implements from 12 machinery hire points have serviced some 2,000 hectares of farmland in a single cropping season. We have also led the design or re-engineering of 40 prototypes to increase the return investments to make precision agriculture technology a more viable option for smallholder farmers.

Sustainable Development Goals tied to work mentioned in this story. Of the 17 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, 10 relate directly to CGIAR activities and to CIMMYT’s mandate. The SDGs have set the pathway for the next 15 years of agricultural, social and economic development. Likewise, CGIAR has transformed its approach to ensure that its work aligns with the ambitious goals.

This story is part of CIMMYT's 2017 Annual Report.


CIMMYT Annual Report 2017. Editors-in-chief: Geneviève Renard, G. Michael Listman, Laura Strugnell. Creative Director: Clyde R. Beaver III. Layout and Design: Gerardo Mejia, Clyde R. Beaver III. Infographics/Illustrations: Gerardo Mejia. Production/Printer Liaison: Eliot Sánchez/Marcelo Ortiz. Video Promotion: Silvia Rico, Carlos Alfonso Cortés. Writers/Editors:  Rachel Cramer, Ricardo Curiel, Jennifer Johnson, G. Michael Listman, Julie Mollins, Matthew O’Leary, Geneviéve Renard, Katelyn Roett, Sam Storr. Contributors: Bekele Abeyo, Ayele Badebo, Frédéric Baudron, Carolina Camacho, Alberto Chassaigne, Kristie Drucza, Kate Fehlenberg, Terefe Fitta, Bram Govaerts, Velu Govindan, Sarah Hearne, Huntington Hobbs, Muhammad Imtiaz, M.L. Jat, Scott Justice, Victor Kommerell, Timothy Krupnik, Jelle Van Loon, Víctor López Saavedra, Cosmos Magorokosho, Kevin Pixley, B.M. Prasanna, Michael Quinn, Matthew Reynolds, Johnson Siamachira, Arturo Silva Hinojosa, Sam Storr, Kashif Syed, Ghulam Ullah. Photographers: Alfonso Cortés, Xochiquetzal Fonseca, Apollo Habtamu/ILRI, Peter Lowe, Johnson Siamachira, Sam Storr, CIMMYT Archives. Spark Page production: Sam Storr.

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