Appropriate access to equipment can greatly improve yields, crop quality and incomes for smallholders in Asia and Africa. The Syngenta Foundation is working on mechanization at different level: policy, research and implementation of a sustainable business model providing machinery rental option for smallholders in Senegal and Mali.
Investment in agricultural machinery has enabled farmers in some developing countries to intensify production and improve their income and quality of life. In countries such as India, China, Brazil and Turkey, the rapid expansion in farm machinery demand has stimulated the growth of local machinery manufacturing and contributed to overall productivity improvement. The same development could happen in Africa, if farmers could intensify their activities through greater mechanization. This would lead to increased input use, higher food production, enhanced food security and reduced dependence on imports.
Timely completion of field preparation and harvesting is a major challenge for rice-growers across Sub-Saharan Africa. Inadequate soil preparation can delay crop establishment and increase weed and water stress (due to uneven distribution of irrigation water). It can also limit field accessibility for later activities. Lack of harvesting capacity can significantly reduce grain quantity and quality. That’s why the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture works on the ground to provide mechanization services to rice farmers in Senegal and Mali. Since 2015 we have been working with Senegalese farmers to raise rice production through adding a growing season aided by access to mechanization services (in particular harvesters) through the CEMA model. CEMA stands for Centre d’exploitation des machines agricoles, a Center for Mechanized Services. The basic idea of each center is to aggregate demand and supply. This enables profitable provision of services that require larger machinery and thus considerable upfront investment. The equipment includes tractors and combine harvesters. Depending on local needs, it can potentially involve grain processing and storage facilities. Typical CEMA owners are farmer cooperatives or produce aggregators. But they can include any third-party organization closely related to a local farming community. The center is operationally independent and keeps to a clear business plan and service catalogue. The aim is for each CEMA to achieve a return on investment within two to three years.
At the policy level, we engage stakeholders to have a dialogue about national mechanization policies and strategies for implementation. On 1 February 2017, SFSA together with the Hub Rural organized a workshop on Agricultural Mechanization in West Africa, in Dakar, Senegal, bringing together over 70 stakeholders from both the public and private sectors to debate about various mechanization policies and how to bring needed mechanization services to farmers. “The workshop pointed to the need for appropriate policies and for specific strategies to match each country, value chain, and production system” says Youssou Diagne, Regional Coordinator of our rice program.
From a R&D perspective, we have been collaborating with CIMMYT in the last three years on a project of developing approaches for sustainable access to mechanization for smallholders – focus on dry land farming. We realize that developing links to local manufacturers or importers /distributors is essential to make mechanization sustainable over the long term. In Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the project has assessed what is already available, either commercially or from international programs, tested and adapted the equipment, and created necessary links for local manufactures and importers. In Bangladesh, a review of the companies supplying maize planting equipment was carried out in order to understand the competitive nature of the industry and a significant milestone has been achieved in 2017 in Bangladesh with the signature of a MoU with RK Metal to develop the market for planters in northern Bangladesh.
The CEMA model
The CEMA provides mechanized land preparation, harvesting and paddy storage services. These are available to farmers' organization members and independent farmers. The mechanized services account for 90-95% of the CEMA's revenue, the storage service for the remaining 5-10%. A partnership with the bank is key for buying machines on credit.