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A service provision model increases access to mechanization by smallholder rice farmers

In sub-Saharan Africa, the extent of farm mechanization remains low, posing a significant obstacle to the intensification of rice production. Limited access to financial resources by smallholder farmers to acquire required machinery has been identified as one of the primary factors contributing to inadequate mechanization in rice farming. In fact, the formulation and implementation of appropriate mechanization policies and strategies including effective engagement of stakeholders are crucial for an enabling environment for modernizing agriculture.

Currently, one of the innovative approaches being rigorously examined and validated by AfricaRice and its partners for rice production is the introduction of mechanized service provision business model. This concept draws inspiration from the success of the CEMA (Center for Mechanized Services) models developed by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) and its collaborators, which were first piloted in Senegal and Mali since 2014. The SFSA has been actively supporting farmers’ organizations by establishing a guarantee fund to facilitate the acquisition of equipment and machinery. Subsequently, the CEMA was established to operate independently and manage the machines and equipment belonging to farmers’ organizations or aggregators. It primarily involved young entrepreneurs delivering mechanization services in land preparation, harvesting, grain processing and storage for members and non-members of farmers’ organization and using digital application to provide agricultural advice or to manage machines and equipment. The concept of CEMA aims to aggregate demand and supply to enable profitable service provision with larger machinery, thus considerable up-front investment. The initial pilot project delivered a significant positive outcome by enabling farmers to undertake agricultural activities at appropriate periods, resulting in the ability to grow two rice crops instead of just one in a year, and consequently boosting the yields. Furthermore, it generated employment opportunities for youth in the rural areas. These results have prompted the replication and scaling up of this approach in other sub-Saharan African countries.

In Madagascar, farm power still relies to an overwhelming extent on human labor with most operations being done using hand tools or draught animal power. Engine-powered equipment, such as power tillers and tractors, are owned or used by less than 5% of farmers due mainly to lack of financial access to mechanization. The most used agricultural equipment in rice cultivation includes draught bovine powered plows and carts, single-row hand-push rotary weeder and manual grain threshers. Such tools, however, have implicit limitations regarding energy, time, and operational efficiency of essential agricultural operations. They don’t enable farmers to intensify their production and improve their incomes and quality of life.

Among the agricultural operations, effective land preparation is a crucial element in maximizing rice yields by not only promoting uniform crop establishment and growth but also reducing weed infestations while enhancing the utilization of nutrients and water. Invariably, Malagasy rice growers face significant obstacles in completing adequate field preparation in a timely manner with the current level of mechanization.

Against this background, AfricaRice, through the Excellence in Agronomy (EiA) Initiative, is working on the ground to develop approaches for sustainable access to mechanization for smallholder rice farmers. In this regard, AfricaRice has introduced mechanized land preparation service models in two major rice-growing areas of Madagascar: Lac Alaotra and Bas-Mangoky. Four farmers’ groups involving a total of 20 male and 108 female farmers including seed producers and processors, were identified to establish the mechanized service provision pilot models. The initially piloted models are centered around the provision of mechanized land preparation services such as ploughing, harrowing and levelling, as well as transportation of products such as paddy, rice straw, etc. The service is available for the farmers’ group members as well as independent farmers outside the group. Each group was first equipped with one power tiller with accessories to operate independently whilst keeping a clear business plan and service catalogue. The aim is for each model to achieve significant returns on investment and break even within three to four years so that the farmers can acquire new machines and be able to provide diverse machinery services.

The first pilot testing conducted from April to June 2023 in Bas-Mangoky, has already proven successful in supporting 21 farmers belonging to the groups and their families, with field preparation spanning over 7 ha. Additionally, it has also benefited 13 non-members, covering an area of 6.6 ha. For lac Alaotra, the project has provided 6 services including 5 land preparation services covering 8 hectares and one transportation service for group members since its inception. These results are expected to increase in the coming months as we approach the next rice planting season in both locations. Further, we expect that the service provision models will empower the farmers group by creating opportunities for greater collaboration and higher financial benefits to the group members.

In addition to assisting farmers' groups in establishing service provision models, we have recognized the importance of supporting local manufacturers to ensure the long-term sustainability of mechanization. In Lac Alaotra, we have successfully identified and established partnerships with local fabricators. Through this collaboration, we anticipate the development of innovative prototypes for motorized rice seeder and motorized transplanter by the end of 2023. This partnership with local fabricators strengthens our commitment to promoting mechanization and its benefits in the agricultural sector.


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