The importance of conservation agriculture (CA) is discussed in the context of producing food for a growing population while, at the same time, conserving and improving the natural resource base: sustainable crop production intensification. CA requires mechanization, and the necessary equipment may be beyond the reach of the majority of smallholder farmers, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. A logical solution to this situation is to provide CA mechanization services from private sector entrepreneurs. These will be well-equipped with appropriate CA equipment and will usually benefit from specific training on the technical aspects of CA machinery operation and on the business skills needed to run a profitable venture. The technical skills to be reinforced include: equipment selection, calibration of planters, seeders and sprayers, field operation, maintenance and repair. Business skills needed include: market research and feasibility studies, business planning, calculation of operational costs, partial budgets, break-even points and cash flows. The case is made for local manufacture to reduce the costs of machinery acquisition and to encourage local adaptation. Start-up costs are discussed together with the options of obtaining finance. Guidelines for marketing and managing the mechanization service provision business are developed. These include the importance of contracts, work planning, regular maintenance schedules and record keeping. Finally the most appropriate vehicle for delivering the training and sustaining support is considered. Formal training courses are a good starting point, but can be expensive to organize and execute. Individual counselling from extension sources is a viable option when the quality of the service is high enough. Study groups of involved entrepreneurs should be encouraged and supported to overcome the problems that will inevitably arise in new business ventures.
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