Brian G. Sims 2016-10-25 00:18:21
The outlook for smallholder farmers Smallholder agriculture is the backbone of food production capacity throughout the developing world and thereby represents one of the keys to ensuring long-term global food security. The global population is set to exceed 9 billion by 2050, so the need to produce more food is immediate and urgent. The world’s half-billion smallholder farms produce about 80% of our food, and they will be required to carry the burden of increasing food production by over 60% compared to 2007 levels in the next three decades. This production intensification will need to take place against a background of natural resource degradation, especially of soils. The majority of the world’s soil resources are in poor condition, with a third dangerously degraded due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification, and chemical pollution. In this situation, sustainable intensification will require natural resource-friendly production systems. Chief among these will be some form of conservation agriculture with reduced tillage (ideally none), permanent soil cover, and increased biodiversity brought about by crop rotations, associations, and sequences. Achieving sustainable intensification Increasing the labor and land productivity of smallholder agriculture will require greater access to farm power and mechanization—an often overlooked but nevertheless vital input. Increasing farm power means that increased areas can be sown to crops (or, indeed, made available for livestock production), but this option is not always available to individual smallholders. Other options to increase productivity include multi-cropping, precision agriculture, controlled-traffic farming, permanent raised beds with residue retention, and improving timeliness, as described below. Multi-cropping Where rainfall and/or irrigation permit, producing multiple crops per year on the same plot of land will clearly raise the overall productivity of the land. Mechanization can play a vital role in facilitating multi-cropping by increasing the rapidity and efficiency of harvesting one crop and ensuring that the land is prepared and the next crop established as soon as possible. One of the outstanding ways to reduce the turnaround time between harvesting one crop and establishing the next is the adoption of no-till or direct seeding. In this case, crop residues are left on the soil surface, and direct seeders or planters place the seed and fertilizer at the required depths and positions after cutting through the surface mulch and without inverting the soil. Precision agriculture Carefully designed machines are capable of improving crop production, and consequently land productivity, through accurate placement of inputs. Examples that spring to mind include precision planters capable of placing seeds at precisely the right depth and spacing, and at the same time placing fertilizer to the side and below the crop line. Precision agriculture more generally has opened the door to crop (and animal) management systems that allow inputs to be precisely applied where they will maximize returns and keep costs to a minimum. Input use efficiency is optimized, environmental pollution is minimized, and profitability is increased. Controlled-traffic farming and raised beds Degraded, compacted soils lose productivity, and one particularly promising mechanization development is controlling the traffic on agricultural soils by means of controlled- traffic farming (CTF). CTF reduces soil compaction by vehicles (or animals) in the area where the crop is grown and confines the wheels (or hooves) to distinct and permanent traffic lines. Suitable CTF systems exist for smallholders farming, including the use of permanent raised beds with residue retention for crop production, preferably combined with conservation agriculture. Developed at the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT), permanent raised beds with retained crop residues have proven to be a sustainable production alternative to conventional tillage, with its associated high cost, for both rainfed and irrigated agriculture. Not only are yields improved, but there are also savings in irrigation water use of about 30% when compared with flat-planted crops. Improving timeliness Insufficient farm power, especially at critical times of the cropping season, can lead to delayed operations with consequent yield penalties. Crops planted outside the permissible planting window will incur increasingly drastic yield penalties, which can exceed 1% for each additional day’s delay. Controlling weeds early in the season is crucial for achieving maximum yields. Weeds compete with the crop for light, water, and nutrients and will limit crop yields if they are allowed to interfere with crop canopy establishment. In the worst-case scenario, late or ineffective weeding can reduce yields to zero and is usually the result of a scarcity of labor or farm power at critical times. Planting crops in lines, raised beds, or CTF systems, and using weeders powered by draft animals to clean the crop, can have a dramatic effect on the timeliness of the weeding operation and, consequently, on crop yields. Equipment options for sustainable production Old traditions die hard, and there will inevitably be a prolonged transition period while conventional, plow-based tillage is replaced with climate-smart conservation agriculture practices. One incentive for change will come from the realization that the energy typically required for no-till production is about half that needed for conventional systems. Therefore, lower horsepower tractors will be more suitable, and mechanization costs will be reduced. Four-wheel tractors (4WTs) of up to 60 hp are likely to fill the niche, and these are now widely available (particularly from manufacturers in India and China). However, equipment for conservation agriculture is available for all power sources, including human and draft animal power and two-wheel tractors (2WTs), typically in the 10 to 15 hp range. Implements start with direct seeders and planters equipped with chisel-tine or disc seed and fertilizer slot openers. For manual operation, various no-till jab planters are on the market. Cover crop and weed management is achieved through mechanical means and herbicide application. Knife rollers and boom sprayers are available for human, draft animal, and small tractor applications. Examples of all these options and more can be found on the Conservation Agriculture website of the United Nations FAO (http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/). Other mechanization options It is important to realize that, for some time to come, there will still be substantial use of plows and harrows, and these will often be locally made by established manufacturers or in the artisan sector. These sources provide much needed skilled employment and are valuable repositories of local knowledge that should be tapped as more climate-smart technologies are promoted and demanded. It is also important to view mechanization needs and opportunities holistically and take in the whole agricultural produce value chain from production to marketing so that opportunities arise for value addition on the farm (for example in threshing and shelling) and in crop processing, which adds value to the produce and again provides employment. Finally, there is a huge need for transport to get the products (and people) to market, to transport inputs to the farm, and to move both produce and inputs around the farm. Increasing the demand for smallholder mechanization In order for smallholders to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty, low savings, low access to mechanization, and low productivity, they need to increase their labor and land productivity, and they need farm power and mechanization to realize that goal. Increasing demand will lead to greater productivity, stimulate the mechanization industry, and result in lower mechanization costs (i.e., a virtuous cycle). Mechanization inputs are usually large (especially for resource-poor smallholders) and are required before any returns can be made, so a farmer with just a few hectares will be reluctant to invest in machinery. For these and other reasons, an attractive option that would improve access to mechanization is to offer services from well-equipped and well-trained local service providers. This option is attracting the attention of international donor organizations who can collaborate with both public and private sectors to ensure that suitable machinery is available, local manufacture is encouraged where suitable, and adequate technical and business training is offered. Demand can be encouraged in the early stages with schemes such as donor-funded e-vouchers, which can be redeemed for climate-smart mechanization services and other necessary inputs, such as quality seed and fertilizer. However, it is important that these incentive schemes are phased out as soon as possible to ensure sustainability. Conclusions Sustainable intensification. The smallholder farming sector is key to producing the food requirements of an increasing, and increasingly urban, population. Increased production must be accompanied by natural resource conservation if we are to have a future on this planet. Therefore, climate- smart conservation agriculture and productivity-enhancing practices are needed at a scale suited to smallholder production systems. Local manufacture. Local manufacture of mechanization equipment is a desirable goal, as it helps to stimulate the local economy and provides an opportunity to adapt technologies to local conditions, be they crops, soils, climate, production systems, technical knowledge, manufacturing skills, or material supply, among other factors. Policy guidelines. Local and national governments will need guidance on how to provide the best environment for nurturing a local agricultural equipment manufacturing industry and how to provide capacity for conservation agriculture mechanization services in the private sector. Service provision. Given the problems of affordability and local availability of machinery and power sources, a promising solution is to equip and train entrepreneurial service providers. This will help to satisfy the demand from smallholders for more farm power and mechanization and will be key to lifting smallholders out of poverty and producing more food for the world’s burgeoning urban population. ASABE member Brian G. Sims, independent consultant in tropical agriculture and agricultural engineering, Engineering for Development, Bedford, U.K., www.engineering4development.co.uk, BrianGSims@aol.com. Focused on (but not confined to) the development of smallholder farming systems using on-farm participatory research and development methods and collaborative approaches to farm mechanization, Sims is past leader of the International Development Group at Silsoe Research Institute (SRI) in the U.K., where he advised on the identification, formulation, appraisal, management, and evaluation of agricultural development programs for the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and other governments and NGOs. He was a visiting researcher at Stanford University in 1985 and a recipient of the ASABE Kishida International Award in 2002. Since leaving SRI in 2003, Sims has continued to work, principally for the United Nations FAO, in development and emergency programs, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Published by ASABE. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://bt.e-ditionsbyfry.com/article/Mechanization+For+Sustainable+Production/2621101/350793/article.html.