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Agricultural mechanization and sustainable agrifood system transformation in the Global South

Background paper for The State of Food and Agriculture 2022












Daum, T. 2022. Agricultural mechanization and sustainable agrifood system transformation in the Global South. Background paper for The State of Food and Agriculture 2022. FAO Agricultural Development Economics Working Paper 22-11. Rome, FAO.



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    Motorized mechanization is an important form of agricultural automation and has the capacity to transform agriculture and rural livelihoods. Its benefits have resulted in a substantial increase in mechanization worldwide, although adoption has been uneven and particularly limited in sub-Saharan Africa. Agricultural mechanization has been so far dominated by large and heavy machinery, putting small-scale producers at a disadvantage due to their lower capacity to afford large, more costly, machinery that often does not suit their small, irregular, or hilly terrains. Moreover, such machinery contributed to environmental problems such as biodiversity loss, land degradation and soil erosion. Inclusive access to mechanization requires a conducive business environment through a range of (coherent) policy instruments and investments. Particularly for small-scale agricultural producers, it is important that machinery is tailored to local conditions through technological and institutional innovations.
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    Background paper for The State of Food and Agriculture 2022
    2022
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    Digital and automation solutions can solve labour bottlenecks, increase agricultural productivity, resilience and efficiency, and improve environmental sustainability. However, access is limited in low- and lower-middle-income countries, especially for small-scale producers. Based on ten case studies in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia, this study investigates the suitability of digital and automation solutions for small-scale producers, the main drivers and barriers to their adoption and the role of policies and regulations in creating an enabling environment. Findings show that technologies in the study countries are largely limited to smartphones and tablets, and related software tools (e.g. mobile applications). Most digital and automation solutions focus on crops, some on livestock and aquaculture, and a few on agroforestry. The most important adoption barriers include the high investment cost, lack of digital skills and knowledge and a lack of an enabling environment. Yet, advances in mechanization supported by digital technologies, and the development of hiring platforms foster adoption. The emergence of guidelines, strategic plans and policies that regulate and streamline automation should be encouraged, as should providing producers with information about the benefits and costs of digital and automation solutions.
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    Agricultural automation reshapes the labour market. In situations of rising wages and labour scarcity, agricultural automation can stimulate employment by allowing producers to expand production and by creating jobs along agrifood systems. Conversely, when labour is plentiful and subsidies lower the cost of automation, there is a risk of job displacement and unemployment, especially for poor and low-skilled workers. Governments should neither subsidize automation, nor restrict it. Instead, they should create an enabling environment for an inclusive process of agricultural automation that ensures access by marginalized groups such as women and small-scale producers, and focuses on building the knowledge and skills of the agricultural workforce to facilitate the transition to new jobs within and outside agriculture.

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