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Rwanda: first electric tractor goes into operation

In cooperation with Volkswagen and partners in Africa, GIZ is supporting research and development to pilot the first e-tractor in Africa.

In Africa, agriculture still means mostly one thing: hard manual labour. Only very few have access to agricultural machinery. Fuel for old diesel tractors is expensive and can often be hard to come by in many regions. With more modern machinery, however, people would be able to cultivate larger areas of land much more effectively. This would mean less work, higher yields and increased incomes for farmers. Given the growing population on the one hand and climate change on the other, it is essential to find solutions that are efficient, future-proof and environmentally friendly.

An idea for solution are electric tractor: So far, they did not exist: This is why the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, working on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ), has been cooperating since early 2021 with Volkswagen and the University of Rwanda to research and develop the first electric tractor for Africa. The tractor – which was fitted with an electric motor and backup battery at Volkswagen’s plant in Wolfsburg, Germany – is being tested initially in Rwanda. It is designed to meet local requirements and to cultivate larger areas more effectively. At the same time, it is hoped that the modern machine will encourage in particular more young people to work in the agricultural sector, leading to higher employment in rural areas

Clean energy for agriculture – and village communities

A local photovoltaic system produces electricity for the innovative tractor. This provides not only clean energy but it will also supply surrounding villages with climate-friendly power. Everyone involved in the project is expecting the first practical trials in the field to produce promising results. These trials could later form the basis for the large-scale production of the tractors. The environmentally friendly approach has also impressed Dr Bernard Munyazikwiye, lecturer at the University of Rwanda: ‘We need to do things differently if we want to modernise our agricultural sector and make it as climate-neutral as possible. It is important for us to find practical solutions that meet the needs of local people. That’s exactly what our project aims to achieve.’

It is not only the drive system of the e-tractor that is innovative, but also the way it will be distributed. The plan is for it to benefit entire village communities rather than just individual farms. It will be purchased by the community and managed cooperatively – farmers will be able to book it via an app to use in their fields. This tractor-sharing scheme will allow far more people to benefit from the new technology as it will be a community investment. In this way, the transformation of the African agricultural sector will not only protect the climate, but also foster social cohesion.

The first phase of the pilot project will come to an end in September 2022. If the results are positive, the agricultural machine could go into large-scale production, primarily in Africa, from 2024 onwards. The long-term goal is for electric tractors to replace conventional diesel models on the continent.