Governments and numerous private organizations throughout the developing world promote the mechanization of smallholder agriculture to strengthen rural economies. Yet most of the world’s smallholder farms still operate under human or animal muscle power. A case in point is Bangladesh, where a recent study seeks to explain why farmers are hesitant to introduce machines to their fields. The study has interesting implications for agricultural technology adoption in general, not just mechanization in Bangladesh.
Making machines popular
Not everyone is in favor of rapid mechanization. Some fear that machines will displace employment or damage the environment, though tractors can also be used in environmentally friendly practices like conservation tillage. But to most observers mechanization seems all but inevitable, for reasons that Sarker et al. point out in their new study in the journal Agrikultura CRI.
“Adopting use of modern agriculture farm machinery provides an opportunity to increase crop production while decreasing manual labor and increasing the quality of life for the farmer,” they point out. The researchers say Bangladesh stands out in South Asia for the relatively quicker pace by which smallholder farmers are adding tractors, tillers, mechanical irrigation systems, and other labor-saving devices to their fields. But uptake has been uneven.
In their small-scale study, the researchers sought to determine which factors predict when a Bangladeshi farmer might take advantage of opportunities to purchase or rent farm machinery. These same factors, they argue, could determine when and how farmers embrace other innovations, or the farmers’ “innovation capacity”. As this and other studies argue, getting a handle on farm innovation capacity is critical to supporting a country’s economic development.
A farner having willingness and fair knowledge on machinery will lead him to adopt innovative machinery.
The study found that “Family income is the key factor in the process of innovation capacity and adoption of new farm machinery,” and that education and land holdings were other factors, with farmers of higher socioeconomic status more likely to mechanize.
Boosting innovation capacity
But will programs to promote mechanization exacerbate existing inequalities? Not necessarily. The study found that many less educated farmers failed to adopt farm equipment because they simply didn’t know much about these machines or how they could help them grow more food. Oftentimes, farmers were also unaware of government or non-profit programs that could help them acquire machines and the know-how to use them. “A farmer having willingness and fair knowledge on machinery will lead him to adopt innovative machinery,” the authors contend. Thus, agricultural extension programs have potential to reduce inequalities as well as increase the uptake of innovations.
Rethinking agricultural extension programs in a more bottom-up manner could also help. As the authors note, “Many studies on agricultural innovations continued to consider farmers as adopters of externally driven innovations. … Over time, farmers have been accepted as innovators and experimenters and not just adopters of introduced technologies.”
Farm innovation capacity isn’t fixed, which is good news for food security advocates. “Better access to training on farm machinery along with better knowledge on farm machinery result in increasing innovation capacity of farmers,” Sarker and colleagues say.
— Grow Further
Photo credit: An un-mechanized smallholder farm near Dhaka, Bangladesh. UN Photo.