In 2012, Mark York was a recent agronomy and mathematics graduate of South Dakota State University with an itch to take his precision agriculture learnings somewhere he could make an impact.

Through a connection from his agronomy professor, Zeno Wicks, Mark landed in Burkina Faso, a country he fondly refers to as the “South Dakota of Africa.”

It’s finally here! Tractor arrives safe and sound after 73 days of transit from St. Louis Park, Minnesota to Yamba Burkina Faso. (photo courtesy of Tractors for Africa)

Selfie with new friends in Yamba: Mark’s new buddies are so excited to see the tractor. (photo courtesy of Tractors for Africa)

Tractors for Africa is a non-profit organization with 501(c)(3) status.

Halfway between the Sahara Desert and tropical rainforests of Ghana, the rainfall and climate pattern of Burkina Faso is ideal for crops and livestock. Strong community ties translate to community farming — many families will work in one acre at a time, making their way through their fields together.

Farming in Burkina Faso also comes with its own set of challenges. Approximately 70 percent of producers in the country do their fieldwork by hand, with 30 percent using implements drawn by mules or other animals. Fewer than one in 300 producers has access to a tractor. Add to that the lack of credit and insurance, and you’ll find that most producers don’t have access to the right inputs and equipment, resulting in an average corn yield of 27 bushels per acre.

That’s where Mark York comes in.

Throughout his internship in Burkina Faso, Mark served as an agronomist to the farmers there, learning about the challenges they face and the solutions they have used to overcome them. One question Mark was frequently asked would stay with him far past his four-month internship: “Will you send us a tractor?”

This question made Mark think about his father, Jim York, and their Minnesota farm. His family there has been running Case and International Harvester equipment to raise corn, soybeans, oats and hogs for 80 years. He wondered, could he get a Farmall tractor to Burkina Faso?

In 2015, Mark joined Louis Ricard and Maurice Hurst and started Tractors for Africa, and in 2016, they raised $25,000 to send a refurbished 50 hp Farmall 400 tractor, spare parts, plow, disk, planter, sprayer, cultivator and one intern to Burkina Faso.

This year, Tractors for Africa just sent its third Farmall tractor.

West African producers have been using their Farmall tractors to implement new time-saving tillage practices, allowing them to hit tight planting windows and save time during the critical planting season. They have seen up to a 190 percent yield increase, and Tractors for Africa continues to collaborate on research with The Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso to determine which agronomic practices work best in that environment.

The future is bright for agriculture in Burkina Faso, with a little help from Mark York and his friends. With 80 percent of the population working in agriculture, the yield increases provided by Tractors for Africa can dramatically impact the families living there and their local economy.