Engaging with a Digital World | Sustainable Mechanisation in Agriculture

Alfred Gilbert
Mon, 24 Apr 2017
Email Author

Automation is prevalent across the globe in both commercial and industrial market sectors. Agriculture needs to adapt and engage with this increasingly digitalised world, if it is going to access the benefits of the technological revolution. For countries, such as Brazil, who now have ageing populations, sustainable mechanisation could be a vital tool in maintaining efficiency and productivity in sector-outputs, whilst also limiting environmental impacts. But what actual benefits to farmers, farming, and the agricultural sector, does the concept of sustainable mechanisation bring?

To address this, it is firstly important to understand why and where the need for technology within agriculture has developed from. We shall use Brazil as a specific example to understand wider global trends.

Brazil is an area that has seen rapid uptake in digital technologies and automation within agricultural practices throughout the entire value-chain. The need for this has in-part been driven by key demographic changes within the country.


Crucially, the Brazilian population is getting older and smaller. With a population of 208 million, Brazil’s population growth rate has dropped over the last 20 years to a figure of 0.75% as of 2016. This has primarily been caused by low birth rates in the country, at 15 births per 1000 people, 3.5 times lower than the median of South American countries. This is causing an ageing of the population, with the current favourable age structure for agricultural labour predicted to shift around 2025. With slowing growth rates, an ageing population, and fast-paced demographic changes, the Brazilian agricultural labour force is shrinking.

With a smaller labour force, Brazilian Agriculture will not be able to meet the performance levels it is currently enjoying without changes or adaptions to practices and management. And this is where sustainable mechanisation can come in.


Sustainable Mechanisation

Sustainable agricultural mechanisation is the practice of introducing appropriate machinery and technology to farmers, to ensure greater efficiency and growth of crops in an environmentally sustainable manner. This refers to all aspects of farming throughout the entire value-chain, including technical, environmental and economic contexts. The benefits of this can be boiled down to four key areas, as outlined below:


Mechanization can increase the yield and productivity of land

A recent study from the Punjab Agricultural University stated that “researchers have concluded that farm mechanization enhances the production and productivity of different crops due to timeliness of operations, better quality of operations and precision in the application of the inputs”. The precision and efficiency capable with technology can dramatically alter a farmer’s ability to actually utilise the full amount of land available to them, in a sustainable manner. This can help farms shift from substance farming to more market-orientated agriculture, owing to increased yields and productivity on a long-term scale.


It increases the efficiency and productivity per man on farms

Following the point above, by its very nature, mechanisation raises the efficiency of agricultural labour as it reduces the necessity for it. Machines are very good at doing laborious and repetitive jobs, without the need for sleep or physical exertion. Utilising machines decreases the amount of human labour needed to produce a unit of output, therefore increasing per man productivity. When considering this in terms of social sustainability, automated labour reduces a farm’s reliance on a human labour force. This means that changing local, national, and global demographic patterns, have a much lower influence on mechanised farms, allowing them to maintain consistent levels of performance.


It helps develop agricultural knowledge and practices

Throughout history, technological advancement has helped improve and develop our understanding of certain topics and phenomena. The development of drones in agriculture has helped farmers better understand the growth of their crops and maximise yields. Sensors linked to precision agriculture have helped farmers better understand soil, land, and the conditions needed for optimum crop growth. Incorporating more advanced and efficient technologies throughout the entire agricultural value chain can therefore help with the development of sector knowledge and practices, again helping farmers maximise productivity in a sustainable manner. Technological advancement stimulates growth and development.


It can improve the sustainability of practices and management within the sector

A point that has been touched on in the three above, sustainable mechanisation at its core promotes and ensures sustainability. Technologies are becoming better and better at understanding human impacts on our planet throughout all sectors and industries. Within agriculture, not only can mechanisation help us ensure that we are making the most out of the land in terms of productivity, but also help farmers ensure that this is not done at the expense of the environment, creating longer-term social, economic and environmental benefits.


There is a growing wealth of sophisticated and sustainable technology designed to tackle and improve agricultural practices throughout the entire value chain. For all countries, including Brazil, there are a variety of controls and limits related to accessing and incorporating this into agricultural practices, including (but not limited to); access to funding, education, small-holder vs. large farms, structural compositions, governance, new technologies and energy. There are also huge debates and concerns over the loss of jobs in the sector caused by the growth of mechanised labour, and the related societal impacts.

To address these issues, Challenge Advisory have developed the Sustainable Intensification Summit Series, in collaboration with the Brazilian government and partners such as Embrapa, NIFA and the WBCSD. A key topic of debate and discussion at the 2017 summit will be labour shortages, and the role of automated tech and mechanisation within Brazilian agriculture. All of these discussions and workshops are designed to examine and present relevant solutions to key challenges within the entire agricultural value-chain, helping to create positive change for both Brazil and the entire global population.

To find out more about the event, key speakers, and topics of discussion, email us at, or follow the link below.

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