Tractors, States, Markets and Agrarian Change in Africa
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Mechanisation has made a comeback to agricultural policy in Africa, encouraging scholars to revisit seminal literature on induced innovation. Recent studies emphasise the role for markets in addressing Africa’s mechanisation gaps and warn about past government failures to be avoided. The trust in the ability of markets to offer optimal solutions is debatable. Markets are shaped, as states are, by the interests of their most powerful players. A history-informed analysis of mechanisation and agrarian change in Africa sheds light onto how states and markets are co-constituted. The much-hyped rise in demand of tractors by medium-scale farmers can be linked back to earlier government intervention. And today’s public-private partnerships for mechanisation services illustrate how private interests shape public policy. Top-down tractor programmes continue to largely bypass smallholder farmers, though some are able to benefit. Though tractors are only one element of a complex story of agrarian change in Africa, they illustrate the enduring process of commodification of land, farming and agrarian relations that benefits the few and subjugates the many.