Working Paper 22: Tractors in Africa: Looking Behind the Technical Fix

Written by Lidia Cabral.

This paper considers the current policy debate on agricultural mechanisation in Africa, situating this in the context of long-standing disputes on appropriate technology and roles for the state. Present calls for mechanisation, and tractorisation in particular, by national governments and international development agencies emerge in a different context, where there are new sources of technology and where development discourse emphasises sustainability and the role of the private sector. Yet, as before, recipes for agricultural mechanisation remain contentious and alliances between aid and business are once again driving policy. This time, however, Southern powers like China, India and Brazil are competing for space. The paper highlights the contentious nature of mechanisation in scholarly debate, policymaking and international development cooperation between North and South.

In addition to this paper’s focus on the broader politics of mechanisation, the policy study also looks at the experiences with mechanisation in three selected countries – Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – all of which have been recently supported by SSC with Brazil, China and India. While the country cases undertake an in-depth analysis of the mechanisation trajectories of the three African countries and their domestic political economy, this paper takes a broader view of the history of mechanisation in Africa and its recurrent debates, and situates the return to tractors in the context of the new aid–business nexus.

Download document