Mechanisation of agriculture is occurring in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, but there remains limited understanding of the economic, social, and institutional conditions underlying this trend. There has been a striking growth in the use of agricultural machinery in Ghana since the early 2000s. This seemingly contradicts perceptions of agricultural stagnation and also runs counter to frequently voiced arguments that mechanisation does not make economic sense in settings where capital is expensive and labour is cheap. Nevertheless, in the northern cereal-producing areas of Ghana, mechanisation is commonplace within the local farming system, including in smallholder production systems. Furthermore, rental markets have emerged, which have allowed farmers of all scales to mechanise production.
The government of Ghana has long sought mechanisation as one of its strategic objectives. The Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (2007) includes as a cross-cutting objective to increase the area of land which is cultivated with machinery, and also increase the ratio of machinery to farmers. Similarly, the METASIP (2010) details the spending by government to establish agricultural mechanisation centers in each of Ghana’s districts. Therefore, mechanisation is receiving considerable attention, with a strongly normative assumption that government intervention is needed and that increased mechanisation is necessary across the country. This research project will provide the government and other local stakeholders with improved information about the current mechanisation use, its interaction with existing farming systems and institutions, and a better understanding of the constraints and policies that might allow for mechanisation to expand.
A mixed-methods approach will be used to provide a descriptive evidence base on which theoretical insights can subsequently be developed and tested. Existing rural household surveys and GIS data sets will be used to investigate the correlates of mechanisation use over time and space, and to investigate the phenomena that are closely associated with mechanisation. Qualitative data collection will then be conducted in 2-3 sites where farmers have adopted mechanisation widely, in order to understand how technology is used, how the supporting institutions for land and labour have evolved, and how rental markets are organised. These complementary approaches will seek to answer the following research questions:
Is the rise in tractor imports to Ghana, and SSA more broadly, due to supply or demand factors?
Farmers may be increasing their use of mechanised technology due to population pressure and rising food demand, or due to increased availability of appropriate and affordable technology.
What institutional innovations have emerged to support mechanisation adoption?
Numerous market failures are associated with machinery investment and rental markets for tractor services. Yet, farmers have invested in machinery and established rental markets. Through institutional innovations, farmers have overcome these constraints to technology adoption.
What impact does mechanisation have both for farm-level production decisions, and for the farming system?
With a change in technology, there may be changes in the amount and skill of labour used, as well as changing demands over land use and the value of land. The question of who benefits from the new technology warrants investigation.