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Farm machines have revolutionised agriculture and made life easy for farmers, but the machinery of tomorrow will also have to contribute to agriculture that is environmentally sustainable, says a new FAO book
The book Mechanization for rural development, a review of patterns and progress from around the world, explores the inexorable rise of the use of machinery in farmers’ fields, drawing lessons for policymakers and economists from some of the big winners and also the regions lagging behind.
For example, Bangladesh went from using human muscle and ox power in the early 1970s to being one of the most mechanised agricultural economies in South Asia, with 300 000 low-power two-wheel tractors, a million diesel powered irrigation pumps and widespread mechanised crop threshing.
On the other hand, Africa, which has comparatively the most abundant land resources, has less than 10 per cent of mechanisation services provided by engine power. About 25 per cent of farm power is provided by draught animals and over 60 per cent by people’s muscles, mostly from women, the elderly and children.
Mechanisation for rural development draws lessons from these trends, with in-depth studies of mechanisation in countries and regions in Africa, Asia, the Near East, South America and Eastern Europe, as well as chapters on themes such as development needs, manufacturing and information exchange.
Future of agriculture
The book also looks to the future, arguing that the design of agricultural machinery must evolve in parallel with the roll out of Sustainable Crop Production Intensification (SCPI). That means fewer chemicals, more efficient use of water, and more efficient use of machines.
Farm machinery needs to be intelligent, lean, precise and efficient in order to minimise the impact on the soil and the landscape. Two of the farming activities that have the greatest impact on the environment are soil tillage, because it can severely damage soil ecology, and pesticide application.
Conservation agriculture is an approach that reduces or eliminates soil tillage and pesticide use. To control weeds, conserve soil moisture and avoid soil disturbance, a mulch layer of crop residue is retained on the unploughed field.
To continue reading the rest of this article, please see the February/March 2014 issue of Far Eastern Agriculture