Anja Niedringhaus / Associated Press
Deere & Co. has found a way to break a new ground in agriculture.
In Africa, that isn't supposed to happen. Deere already is one of the largest suppliers of agricultural equipment in the world. The main reason the American farm-equipment maker is eyeing Africa is to capture a new market there – the continent's developing middle class is eager to expand their agriculture – but a lot of critics don't see this trend as a good thing. They argue that the continent is particularly susceptible to the problems that plague modern-day agriculture, such as climate change, water scarcity and poor political or business institutions. Deere argues otherwise.
Last week the company sent a brand-new machine to the farm of Congolese farmer Juliana Nampala. The Deere combine harvester was installed by the International Institute for Environment and Development and would harvest her maize crop. Nampala is one of the first in Africa to be made available through Deere's pilot farming project "Trucks of the Future," a series of tailored tractors designed with the African market in mind. Other farmers in Angola, the Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia can also get the machines through the project.
At the heart of the project are two "open-cell technology" tractors: long forks separated from the tractor frame by a layer of polystyrene foam. Traditional tractors have walls designed to keep the tractor and the soil it discharges of the air, a tactic that reduces the pressure on soil when threshing crops. Open-cell technology allows the tractor to work without a wall. This can also mean better maintenance, less wear and tear on the machine and a significant reduction in repairs. The trucks have a lower friction coefficient of 2.9 and produce 25 percent less friction than conventional tractors, according to Deere's website.
A shade different than your average tractor, these open-cell tractors can, in theory, yield more than a conventional combine. According to Deere, the average African receives 20 percent less rainfall per acre of land than Americans and needs up to half the amount of water to grow the same amount of food. Instead of direct equipment like combines, which take water into the machine and harvester, open-cell technology allows for the harvesting of crop by an exhaust pipe. As an amount of water is needed for the crop, it can be refilled by the exhaust pipe, reducing the amount of water taken into the tractor and allowing for better precision in harvesting.
If Nampala's maize harvest is any indication, the project should help farmers in Africa break ground in the right direction.