According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), while tractors are used to prepare land on over 60 percent of cultivated lands in Asia, the corresponding figure for Sub-Saharan Africa is around 5 percent. Moreover, the use of draught animals in sub-Saharan Africa is minimal outside of Ethiopia – due in considerable measure to the tsetse fly – so almost all the work is done manually.
One result is that many African farmers deploy low-yielding techniques and may prefer slash-and-burn methods.
Today, smaller and more affordable machinery, such as two-wheel tractors, available on hiring terms using digital technologies are proving popular around the continent, underscoring how the sharing of capital assets can be leveraged to achieve greater scale and access to modern tools.
Agricultural mechanization in Africa can raise productivity and make rural employment more attractive, thus ensuring the continent’s future growth and poverty alleviation.
Another report from German Development Institute, says that majority of the population in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) lives in rural areas and is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. As land is usually tilled by smallholders manually with a hand hoe, or mattock, the worker’s output, and productivity (and with it, their income) is low, and the actual workload high. Similar conditions apply in downstream sectors, ranging from processing and transport to marketing. This frequently results in negative health implications for the workers, many of them women, and makes the agricultural sector less appealing.
If they have achieved good levels of schooling or training, young people prefer to take up employment in the cities and choose to leave rural areas. In addition to the heavy workload, further consequences of manual cultivation include high harvest and post-harvest losses, lack of competitiveness, low agricultural exports, and high imports.
Agricultural mechanization can help to improve this situation.
Jaco Beyers, the Managing Director, John Deere Africa, and the Middle East explained to CEO Business Africa how John Deere is transforming agricultural mechanization and productivity in the continent.
“John Deer started as an agricultural company in 1837 with a plough and today, we are a global company, the leading producer of agricultural and construction equipment in the continent. We are the best agricultural company on the continent with the best dealer network in the continent, dealer network that invest millions on infrastructure, tools to ensure that we can look at after our customers,” he says.
“In the last three months, we took over the construction and forestry division, so now we can look after the infrastructure, mining all the way to food security for Africa. I am really looking forward to that challenge and take all the well-known agricultural brands just to the next level,” says Jaco.
The past two years have been quite challenging to businesses globally due to Covid-19 pandemic and the Illinois headquartered heavy machinery manufacturer was no exception having faced massive challenges in its operations.
“Covid-19 has been a massive challenge, fortunately for us, we got these “dealers of tomorrow”, strong dealers with the right infrastructures that were able to keep our customers going. The challenge was logistics to ensure we got the right parts to our customers. Come to think of it, when a farmer needs to plant, they need to plant that specific day otherwise they lose the planting window. That window is just so short, so we moved almost heaven and earth to ensure we get the parts there in time and when not, we made plans,” explains Jaco.
Jaco goes ahead to clarify that they are not out of Covid-19 pandemic yet. “I think we are still going to be on it for quite some time, but we managed to put plans from point A to point Z to ensure continuity, to ensure we keep our customers going and remember it is also on the construction and agricultural sides. All these customers are quite critical. We also moved to another phase of digital phase in communicating to our customers. We launched a platform called tech-terrain which is also available in Kenya where we share all the technologies and is gaining some good traction.”
Forestry and construction solutions
“On the agriculture side, we bring solutions from the small new era farmer all the way to the large agro-processor or put it differently, from the used piece of equipment may be 30 years old, all the way to a brand-new combine harvester. We have a brand promise to look after those customers and bring in technologies to improve the productivity of a customer. When it comes to new era farmer, it can be something as a tractor, a ripper and a plant re-combination and believe it or not, that is technology that will help the farmer be more productive,” Jaco explains.
Jaco adds that in Africa, a lot of farmers who have been planting for the last 30 years used a disc plough, meaning there is a hard pan of about 15cms and the water cannot penetrate deeper and by bringing a little planter and a ripper that can reap through it, a farmer can harvest the water and you can get proper root development. With the proper John Deer planter, they can get proper seeds spacing, fertilizer spacing. They call it John Deer smart farmer.
“When we try and show these technologies to the new era farmer, we improve the yield from average of 1.7 tones to something like 7-7.5 tones. That is massive when it comes to food security and productivity for that farmer.”
“Then it comes to the sales organizations. Now we overlay the construction side, we can leverage a lot of the same infrastructure. Yes, we are going to run the business simpler because the customers on the construction side, you need to treat them completely quite different from the customers on the agricultural side, but for the company, overall, we feel this is the way forward and this is the way we going help drive further investment and development in Africa,” he goes on to say.
Jaco Meyers says that Africa needs infrastructure, so they need to leverage their resources in Africa and then with the abundance in development of agriculture, they want to tap in and bring additional infrastructure.
“Yes, we are the leading player in this continent but there is way more that John Deere can do to evolve in this continent. We have added North Africa and Middle East as well. We are used to dealing in Sub-Saharan Africa where every country is different. There is a lot of volatility but now we have specialists who knows how to handle it in Sub-Saharan Africa. We need to leverage our team to help grow our new dealers in North Africa and Middle East, really looking forward to taking this organization to the next level as we grow Africa.”
With the adoption of technology picking up very fast in the continent, to farmers in Africa, seeing is believing, they want to see the technology on this continent, but the challenge is that Africa is vast. In tech-terrain digital platform, John Deere share Africa stories and success stories of technology on the continent.
“For the viewers, go to techterrain.co.za and have a look at this success stories from emerging farmers to large operations and we are moving now to season two where we want to elaborate and expand. Two, we talk about our operations center which is a cloud-based platform. We help farmers record and store all the data from yield mapping; yield year over year overlay, seed placement because these days you can write your seed population based on soil types. You overlay that, your fertilizer application and because it is in a cloud-based platform, you can share it with your agronomist, you can share it with your seed’s supplier, fertilizer suppliers. We work with a lot of third parties and that is another element when it comes to digitalization,” says Jaco.
To further ensure effective customer support, John Deere has come up with “Connected Support”.
“You know the size of countries like Kenya, Angola, the size of the continent, how do you look after those pieces’ equipment. When it comes to the support, we got something called connected support where the tractor or the combine or the sprayer itself will let the farmer or the dealer know when there is something that might go wrong. There might be some issue on the bearing, and it will tell you to stop and let the dealer know and bring the different parts. We call it preventative maintenance linked to the connected dealer support, so those relatively new for the continent. In South Africa, we have been running it for now years now and its some great technology we can leverage and because we all want to be equal at John Deere, the same technology will still apply for the construction side. We are looking forward to bringing those technologies to the construction industry as well,” explains the VP.
Prospects, challenges, and opportunities
“Time for Africa to develop is now and that is why we are investing in these technologies; we are bringing in large organizations to run our dealership to help train and work with our farmers. We have contractors, construction, and mining operations because with the setting up all these resources, we can leverage, and we have technologies that we can do it more efficiently and operate as same level as the farmers and operators to the rest of the world,” Jaco says emphatically.
“We also got the infrastructure, so we are quite bullish, and feel we are going to expand, ramping up support to our dealers and customers to the best of our ability. We have dealers willing to invest, we have got the technology, portfolio to support mining operations, construction, and farmers from the new era farmers all the way to the large corporate organizations across the continent. I do want to point out that there may be a few challenges out there that may help improve food security and improve technology adoption. Bureaucracy and red tape when it comes to establishing signals is one,” says Jaco.
For example, GPS, some of their tractors can run autonomously for most of the operations but they need specific signals and as John Deer, they pride themselves in doing things ethically so sometimes it takes a lot of time to get correct approval from the government. If there is away for them to understand the urgency, then that will basically help.
“The other one is high taxes and import duties. When you think of what you can do to support farmers, we have new technologies but then you look at the amount of taxes loaded on these new technologies, there is a way a government can help reduce and it can make improvement on the productivity of agricultural even on the construction side,” he adds.
With the American agricultural machinery, heavy equipment, forestry machinery, diesel engines, drivetrains used in heavy equipment, and lawn care equipment manufacturer expanding its footprint across the region, do they plan to establish a manufacturing plant and service centers?
“We run across the entire African continent plus the near Middle East. We have a strong dealer network. Even though we do not have a 100% manufacturing plant, we do have some local assembly that happens when our dealers apply. Across the entire continent, we do some local small, smaller tractors,” explains Jaco.
According to the father of two kids who is trying to balance family and work life and driving the John Deere Middle East and Africa ship, they have a new purpose statement that says, “we run so life can leap forward.”
To him, the statement touches almost emotionally because they supply equipment, but their equipment is helping the farmer farm more productively, helping building infrastructure so we can get kids to schools.
“If you look at Africa, it is such a vast opportunity, but we need to start somewhere, and the future is now. We are getting into new era of development and there will always be issues but with the right partners, Africa is the new frontier and John Deere has been here from the start. We have mechanization and we are going to leap Africa into the future bringing new technology, moving all of us to that next level. We have the best dealer network, the largest footprint. If you have any question, please reach us on Facebook or on our websites, talk to our dealers. We would like to engage and help grow the business,” he concludes.