Animal traction is an appropriate, affordable and sustainable technology that is increasingly important throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, complementing both hand labour and tractor power. Work animals (oxen, cows, donkeys, horses, mules, etc) are mainly used for land preparation and transport, but they are also employed for weeding, ridging and planting and they can assist logging, milling and road construction. There was a period when animal traction technology was neglected by both governments and aid agencies, but it is now recognised as a crucial area for research and development. Animal power will continue to have great relevance for smallholder farmers in Africa for many years to come. Not only is the technology affordable, profitable and sustainable, it is also environmentally appropriate in most ecological systems.
The Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa, ATNESA, formed in 1990, aims to improve information exchange and regional cooperation relating to animal draft power. ATNESA is an open, multidisciplinary network coordinated by a regional steering committee that works with national networks. ATNESA convenes international workshops and produces resource publications.
The ATNESA workshop on Meeting the challenges of animal traction was held from 4-8 December 1995 at Karen, Kenya. The workshop was attended by 130 people from 27 countries.
A total of 85 technical papers were prepared and circulated.
Edited versions of the papers were published in the
proceedings (and are available on this website). The objective of the workshop was to bring together regional and international specialists involved in research, development, training and extension of animal traction to assess the current situation, review progress and plan to meet the future challenges.
Hosts and sponsors
The workshop was hosted by the Kenya Network for Draught Animal Technology (KENDAT), a non-governmental organisation based at the University of Nairobi. KENDAT is affiliated to ATNESA and aims to improve animal traction technology in Kenya. The workshop core costs were supported by the British Development Division in East Africa (BDDEA) of the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), which also sponsored some participants. Other sponsors included the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), AGROTEC, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Commonwealth Foundation. Many participants were sponsored by their own organisations or by agencies within their own countries.
Workshop themes and methodology
The workshop theme was explored with a multidisciplinary, holistic and farming system approach. Subthemes to focus discussion included: gender, transport, weed control, donkeys, environmental impact, cows for work and challenges of animal traction in Kenya. The workshop methodology was built on the experience of previous ATNESA workshops with emphasis on participatory activities rather than plenary sessions. During five days of intense interaction and activity, participatory methods were used to encourage information exchange, stimulating critical discussion, synergetic collaboration and constructive planning. A large number of poster displays and photographic exhibitions prepared by participants as well as some implements were on show and stimulated much discussion.
Invited lead papers were presented on each of the subthemes. Small, multidisciplinary, multinational groups visited farmers in seven areas within 180 km of Nairobi. Each small group held in-depth discussions with two different farming families. Additional visits were made to women's groups, implement manufacturers and jua kali artisans. Detailed analyses were made of the technical, social and animal-related challenges observed during the field visits. Further problem analysis on the themes was undertaken in specialised groups. Optional evening sessions provided further opportunities for special interest groups to meet. A summary of the identified challenges and solutions was presented. In order to turn the analysis into concrete action, various individuals, institutions or organisations agreed to undertake specific actions to tackle some identified challenges on behalf of ATNESA (and ultimately the end-users).
Gender issues and challenges
Women play a major role in agriculture, but official services are generally directed towards men. Household decision-making and control of animal traction have been dominated by men, but women are increasingly responsible for these. Some tasks that are traditionally female can be greatly helped by animal power (eg, transport and weeding). Women often lack access to assets such as land, capital and credit to buy equipment and animals.
Gender aspects of animal traction are under- researched. A study is required to estimate the economic (as well as social) advantages of reducing women's drudgery through animal power. Animal traction projects require a holistic, integrated gender-sensitive approach to analysis, planning and implementation. National animal traction networks will arrange workshops on gender issues.
The ATNESA publication Gender issues in animal traction: a handbook will be expanded and re-published.
Participatory processes in animal traction
Conventional top-down approaches to developing and promoting animal traction need to be changed. Several animal traction projects in the region (including Sudan, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania) have successfully used participatory technological development methods. Farmers, village artisans and other stake-holders are involved at all stages in the selection, modification and diffusion of technologies. Participatory rural appraisals help identify and prioritise constraints. Projects have faciliating roles, as farmers are assisted to review, screen, rank and test technological options on their own farms. Using their local knowledge, farmers and artisans identify problems and help control and direct the research-development processes. Participatory methods should also be used in animal traction extension, as extenionists work closely with male and female farmers to identify and rank their actual needs. Greater farm-level involvement and liaison with both artisans and manufacturers is required.
Since participatory methods are still not well known, ATNESA will help prepare guidelines, training materials and case histories, while national networks will arrange training workshops. National networks will make greater efforts to involve artisans and manufacturers, and compile information on equipment use, options and market demand.
Environmental impact and sustainable production
There is little reliable information concerning the environmental implications of animal traction (whether positive or negative) and alternative options. Land pressures exist and deforestation and erosion occur whether cultivation is by hand, animals or tractors. Draft animal are not the cause of such trends. Animal traction can be environmentally sustainable and assist erosion-control systems (eg, in hill agriculture). Certain animal- powered technologies may be environmentally inappropriate in some situations (eg, sledges in some ecosystems or mouldboard plows in arid zones). Drought conditions favour donkeys over cattle. Donkeys are sometimes blamed for environmental decline, whereas farmers see them as one solution to the problem. There is virtually no scientific evidence relating to the differential environmental impact of donkeys, oxen, cows or other work animals.
Research is urgently required to understand the positive and negative environmental implications of animal traction in the region. This should include work on assessing the environmental and socioeconomic impact of different tools and species. An ATNESA workshop, due to be held in South Africa in 1997, will address these issues further.
Transport and equipment
Animal-powered transport, whether by cart or pack, can have major socioeconomic benefits for women and men in rural areas. Access to transport reduces drudgery, favours higher agricultural inputs and outputs, enhances marketing opportunities and promotes social and economic development. Carts and pack animals benefit the owners and those who hire or borrow them. Use of animal transport is constrained by the high cost of oxen and carts and lack of credit. While donkeys provide a cheaper alternative, harnessing systems are often poor.
An ATNESA publication on animal-drawn carts will be published in
In much of the world the ard plow is used, but in most of Africa, mouldboard plows designed and manufactured over 40 years ago are common. New designs of plows and cultivators have seldom been adopted, partly due to lack of participatory approaches to their development and extension. National animal traction databases are to established, to include information on manufacturers, sales outlets, equipment types, research and training institutions. Quality control procedures and prospects for greater involvement of blacksmiths in technology development will be studied. A case study on credit to assist women adopt technology will be prepared.
Animal power for weed control
Weeding is a major constraint in agriculture. Hand hoes are the main weeding tools in the region. Limitations of human time and power mean that effective weeding is difficult or delayed. Weeding using animal draft power can save time, labour and money. However, adoption of animal-drawn weeders in the region is low. Constraints include lack of suitable, affordable implements in rural areas, inadequate information on weeding issues and lack of participatory training systems.
To improve the situation, participatory work is needed on the use of existing plow-frames as weeders and on alternative, lightweight designs of ridgers and cultivators. Local blacksmiths and the large manufacturers should be involved. Donkeys may be used for light weeding operations. Farmers and national networks need more information on weeding technology and options. ATNESA will publish a book on Animal power for weed control.
Use of cows for work
As pressure on land grows, the use of cows as draft animals becomes increasingly attractive to smallholder farmers with occasional requirements for cultivation and transport. In several parts of the world, cows are now the main work animals for smallholders and cows are increasingly used in Eastern and Southern Africa. Research suggests that with adequate feeding, cows can perform reasonable work with little loss of milk or reproductive performance. The system is economically attractive as any losses in milk/calves are compensated for by work. If cows are not well fed, their reproductive performance decreases with heavy work. In highland areas, the use of high yielding crossbred cows for milk, calves and work is technically possible and economically attractive. Farmers and extensionists may initially be reluctant to encourage cow traction, but the trend to work cows is likely to be seen throughout the region, particularly in intensive areas and highlands. As the issue is new to most people, ATNESA will prepare and circulate a booklet outlining the main issues related to cow traction.
Donkey utilisation: issues and challenges
Donkeys are playing an increasingly important role in transport in the region. They are also being used for light cultivation. Women are often the beneficiaries of donkey work. Teamed in pairs or fours, well-fed and well-maintained donkeys are able to perform most tasks undertaken by oxen.
Although donkeys are popular because they can survive with minimal attention on rough grazing, they benefit from good feeding and management. Little is known about donkey nutrition and health problems and research is needed, particularly as donkeys are being brought (by farmers and projects) into new areas. Information is required on appropriate feeding strategies, the epidemiology of donkey disease and low-cost remedies and management practices. There are few implements designed for donkeys and participatory testing, development and extension work is required on these and on effective, low-cost harnessing systems. There is a need to promote better management systems and increase public awareness of the value of donkeys, and their role for women and men in sustainable production, marketing and income generation.
ATNESA will convene an international workshop on improved donkey utilisation resulting in a new resource publications.
New perspectives and conclusions
Animal traction must be seen in its wide context as one means to an end. A holistic, people-centred, gender-sensitive farming systems approach is needed to animal traction and alternative technologies. Participatory approaches are essential for effective technology development and promotion. Many animal traction challenges have been identified and networking will be a valuable tool helping to meet and over these.
The workshop was very popular (as confirmed by the confidential evaluation) and led to much formal and informal information exchange. Numerous new contacts were formed and many follow-up proposals for collaboration between individuals, organisations and countries have already been made. The new ATNESA steering committee, the national networks and individual members have committed themselves to a range of follow-up actions including further specialised workshops and
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