The involvement of the European private sector in the mechanisation of Africa’s agriculture, currently dominated by China, will open up the market and help farmers make quality choices, FAO’s Josef Kienzle said in an interview with EurActiv.com. Josef Kienzle is an agricultural engineer at the Plant Production and Protection Division of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in Rome. He spoke to EurActiv.com’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.
For how long can muscle power remain as the main source of Africa’s agriculture? What can we do to speed up the mechanisation process? What can the EU do?
What we need to do is to enhance the role of private sector entrepreneurship. We should focus on the next generation of potential agriculture entrepreneurs, because in my opinion, a young person in a rural area should be able to make a decision to become a mechanisation service provider for a village or for a district. Obviously, young people need support programmes for that, like special credit lines from banks which will be part of a larger programme; maybe the EU could also support with technical assistance. We have to help create an environment in rural areas where entrepreneurship development is possible.
What about the agri-food industry that could actually invest in machinery as well?
It would be easier for a large-scale machinery company to invest because it is less controversial. It is a public interest to let young farmers and smallholders have access to modern technology in farming. It’s almost against the human rights to work for 12 hours under the sun with your hands in order to get the food you need. With the agri-food industry, one has to deal with chemicals and the risk of pollution, which is not the case for machinery companies as they only offer tools to reduce the use of muscle power, often women and children.
It is also a social obligation of private companies to intervene and organisations like the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Union should provide support.
An example is AGCO company which recently decided to go to Zambia and create a training centre to educate potential entrepreneurs. What I really like about this initiative is the long-term aspect of this project. Typically, projects in Africa usually last much shorter – only about 1, 2 or 3 years.
What is your next step regarding Africa’s mechanisation?
FAO signed an official memorandum of understanding with the European Agricultural Machinery Industry Association CEMA, as Europeans are open towards the rest of the world, and the idea of this was to focus on Africa and new models for promoting agriculture mechanisation businesses at all levels, from production, to harvesting, post-harvesting and the issue of market access. In the past, we focused too much on production but not so much on market access.
And how will Europeans coexist with their Chinese partners?
China has always been there, but it has to learn. In terms of quality and durability of equipment, Chinese still have a long way to go to compete. And it is not me saying that. I have been in meetings where Tanzanian officials stood up and told the Chinese: “Please do not send us all this equipment that is damaged after very few hours of use”.
So, at the end of the day, I think the quality and durability will help a potential buyer to make a decision. You can have a tractor from China with 9,000 dollars but you must know that it will maybe last 2-3 years or less. I hope the market will clean it up.
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