U.S. Agriculture Equipment Maker ‘Designing Products With Africa In Mind’

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Are there enough tractors in Africa?

The U.N. says lack of mechanization plays a role in the under-performance of African agriculture, and a U.S.-based tractor manufacturer is making money changing that, according to a DailyNews report.

AGCO, whose products include tractor brands such as Massey Ferguson and other agricultural equipment, says part of its mission and business strategy in Africa is to design products with Africa in mind.

Is the strategy working?

AGCO says its Africa sales grew more than 60 percent between 2012 and 2014. In 2013, the company promised to invest more than $100 million over three years in its Africa operations.

Agriculture supports 80 percent of livelihoods for Africa’s 1.1 billion population but the sector as a whole performs at about 40 percent of its potential, according to the African Development Bank.

Many problems contribute to the under-performance of African agriculture including under-investment by policymakers, poor infrastructure, and climate change. Lack of mechanization also plays a role, DailyNews reports.

Lack of mechanization means that “agricultural operational efficiency and productivity, and, therefore, the prosperity of a very large proportion of the African population, has remained a problem,” according to the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation.

Africa’s agricultural productivity is one of the lowest of any region in the world, the U.N. says. African farms tend to be small, and farmers continue to rely on manual practices to till and cultivate fields.

In 2000, there were 200,000 tractors being used in all of sub-Saharan Africa, compared to almost 1 million in China and more than 1.5 million in India, DailyNews reports.

Just 10 percent of cropped land in Africa is prepared by tractor, and just 4 percent of land is irrigated.

AGCO talks about supporting sustainable mechanization across Africa, according to the report.

“For us, sustainable mechanisation means designing our products with Africa in mind,” said Rob Smith, AGCO general manager for Europe, Africa and Middle East. “It means building our products on the continent locally. It means providing education in successful agricultural practices, in training operators, mechanics, and our dealer partners on how to operate, service and maintain our machines.”

AGCO has a long and well documented involvement Africa. In January at the the Fourth Annual AGCO Africa Summit in Berlin, Smith displayed an Ethiopian 10-birr banknote portraying a 1970s-era Massey Ferguson tractor at work. It’s a product placement companies dream of, Smith said, according to a report in IFAJ.org.

At the summit, Smith also said AGCO will also be opening its first training and demonstration facility in Zimbabwe in May and the company announced it plans to build a second facility in Algeria to serve French-speaking Africa.

Some of the speakers at the AGCO summit included former Mozambican President Joaquim Alberto Chissano and former Botswana President Quett Ketumile Joni Masire.