Agricultural mechanization is an extensive concept, covering agricultural engineering, agricultural machinery and its use in operation, the selection of agricultural appliances and agricultural building.
The term "agricultural mechanization" refers in particular to mechanization of the work involved in agricultural production processes (in other words, farm mechanization). It is an extensive concept, covering agricultural engineering, agricultural machinery and its use in operation, the selection of agricultural appliances and also agricultural building. Agricultural mechanization needs to be based on the technical, economic and social criteria of each farm.
According to FAO, “The term “mechanization” is used to describe tools, implements and machinery applied to improving the productivity of farm labour and of land; it may use either human, animal or motorized power, or a combination of these. In practice, therefore, it involves the provision and use of all forms of power sources and mechanical assistance to agriculture, from simple hand tools, to draught animal power and to mechanical power technologies.” Agricultural mechanization focuses on the following aspects:
- all types of farm power (human, animal and mechanical), including the related social, economic and environmental dimensions;
- standards for farm tools, machinery and equipment, together with codes of conduct for their safe use (implemented in close collaboration with the plant production and protection division);
- technical, policy and strategy issues concerning mechanization; and
- alternative crop establishment technologies, such as conservation agriculture.
Mechanization systems are categorized into human, animal and mechanical technologies. Based on the source of power, the technological levels of mechanization have been broadly classified as hand-tool technology, draught animal technology and mechanical power technology.
Limitations through maintenance
The failure of mechanical technology mechanization in developing countries has been explained by many as a result of shortcomings in maintenance. It has been claimed that the difficulties in finding spare parts and competent technicians to repair machines, as well as the shortage, or complete lack, of minimum maintenance practice (oil, grease, changing worn parts), have reduced the service life of the equipment and its economic profitability.
The above reasoning has been an excellent excuse for those responsible for agricultural mechanization development policies, an excuse often tinged with an air of disdain. The diagnosis has led to minimalist philosophies of agricultural mechanization, possibly including the ‘do it at home’ concept in appropriate technology. It is comforting to conclude that maintenance problems will be reduced if farmers are not so dependent on supplies from outside.
There are, however, more fundamental reasons for the failure of mechanization strategies which are often adopted by governments and international agencies, i.e. when the strategies do not pay sufficient attention to the interests of the farmer and to the processes of technical change. Such failures and strategic errors can be found both in heavy mechanization approaches (tractorization) and in those recommended by the proponents of light equipment (animal-drawn, multi-purpose toolbars). Why should farmers maintain a piece of equipment at a cost which can never be recovered from increases production? Have they been consulted about the changes which the machine will cause in the production systems? These results in adoption of strategies which are ill thought out and, in the long term, will undermine all the costly effort made by projects and governments to train users and install maintenance systems.
Seen from this point of view, the maintenance problem is a result of inappropriate choices of equipment. Once the farmer decides that the new equipment has potential benefits, the maintenance problem is well on its way to being solved. Lack of maintenance is therefore an effect, not a cause, of the failure of mechanization strategies. When a piece of equipment meets the needs of the user, they will find a way to deal with its maintenance and servicing requirements.
Ownership requirements are less demanding than that of tractors. Repair and maintenance services for tractors are not readily accessible in most rural areas, whereas draught animals can be sourced within rural areas, and the basic repair services for implements are available from local artisans.
It is of paramount importance to make the most efficient possible use of that human power source. Certainly, greater efficiency could be achieved through judicious ergonomic work to design more effective hand tools for different types of farm worker under various working conditions. Probably the most important option for smallholder farmers in different regions, however, lies in reducing the requirements for farm power through systems such as conservation agriculture, which allows the most energy-demanding tasks of land preparation and weeding to be avoided almost entirely. It can be powered by humans, animals, or tractors, and it protects and enhances the natural resource base. However, the promotion of conservation agriculture and its mechanization options will require political will and policy decisions, coordinated public and private sector support and action, and orientation and training for small-scale farming families.
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GTZ (2005): Guidebook for Extension Training in Agricultural Water Management. Cairo.