This blog was originally posted on the Wageningen University & Research (WUR) website on June 8, 2021. Also available in Dutch.

Mechanized harvesting and mechanized threshing can reduce food loss at smallholder rice farms, which can lead to promising business cases and climate-smart solutions for the farmers. This is the outcome of a controlled experiment from Wageningen University and Research, in cooperation with Olam Rice Nigeria, conducted in Nigeria.

Introducing mechanized harvesting and mechanized threshing prevents almost half a ton (479 kg) food loss per hectare. Mechanization is also increasing farmers income by approximately 200 dollars per hectare. Moreover, the introduction of mechanization can avoid 1.7 ton CO2-eq. production-related greenhouse gas emissions per hectare. This already accounts for fuel use of the reaper and thresher, making a strong case for farm mechanization as a climate-positive intervention.

The yield from mechanically harvested and threshed sample plots of rice was compared with the yield from sample plots harvested and threshed manually. Local youth was trained by Olam to work with the machinery. Wageningen University reflected besides the effects on food loss, income and emissions, also on socioeconomic impacts of mechanization, like division of labor and the role of women and youth.

Policy adviseS: support activities

Based on this work the researchers are giving several policy advises. Mechanization should be part of agricultural development strategies for reducing losses, improving food security and improving farmers’ incomes. In the context of these strategies, mechanization should be approached from a broader value chain perspective, with early involvement from all relevant stakeholders. It’s recommended to cooperate with existing initiatives for improved practices in rice farming, such as Olam’s Rice Outgrowers Initiative.

It is essential to improve the access to mechanized systems like reapers and threshers. This could be done through farmer cooperatives and rental service providers. This will allow farmers to reap a nearly immediate benefit at a relatively low cost. Policy should support these activities, if necessary, with subsidies, and enable the development of a market for affordable credit provision. The private sector, governments, and supporting agencies should respond to all these opportunities, with policy enabling the development of equipment supply chains. This can extend beyond machinery and complementary services to for example other agricultural inputs which farmers can now more easily afford.

Mechanization strategies should go hand in hand with a more general rural development strategy, aiming for diversification of rural economies. As a labor-saving intervention, mechanization can have the undesired side-effect of increasing rural unemployment. To mitigate this effect and possible resulting backlash, there need to be opportunities to use the time saved. This includes education for children and youth, and opportunities for other economic activities for adults. Increasing awareness is important. Demonstrations and education on efficient practices and technology should be a part of this, towards farmers. This includes training of farmers and operators on effective machine use, as well as development of technical skills in rural communities. Policy should contribute to building and dissemination of technical know-how and capabilities.


The impact of mechanization in smallholder rice production in Nigeria (Han Soethoudt, Jan Broeze, and Heike Axmann, WUR)

Heike Axmann is the International Project Leader and Expertise Leader of Agro-Supply Chains and Agro-Logistics at Wageningen University in Food & Biobased Research. This work was conducted as part of the CCAFS project Reducing agro-food induced GHG emissions through effective FLW reducing strategies.