IN the past agricultural mechanisation in developing countries was criticised because it often failed to be effective, and was blamed for exacerbating rural unemployment and causing other adverse social effects.
This was largely the result from experiences during the 1960s until the early 1980s when large quantities of tractors were supplied to developing countries either as a gift from donors, or on very advantageous loan terms.
Mechanisation was one of the factors responsible for urbanisation and industrial economies.
However, mechanised agriculture is the process of using agricultural machinery to mechanise the work of agriculture, massively increasing farm output and farm worker productivity.
In modern times, powered machinery has replaced many jobs formerly carried out by humans or animals such as oxen, horses and mules. Current mechanised agriculture includes the use of tractors, trucks, combine harvesters, airplanes (crop dusters), helicopters, and other vehicles.
Besides improving production efficiency, mechanisation encourages large scale production and improves the quality of farm produce. On the other hand, it displaces unskilled farm labour, causes environmental pollution, deforestation, and erosion.
However, many governments, Zambia alike and organisations have realised how mechanised agriculture promotes production efficiency and improves quality of farm produce.
It is against this background that the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the Zambia National Farmers' Union (ZNFU) have had a long standing collaboration in promoting this type of farming.
And an example of this collaboration is the recent one being the Farmer Input Support Response Initiative (FISRI) funded by European Union under the European Union Food Facility (EUFF) and the Conservation Agriculture Scaling Up for Increased Productivity and Production (CASSP) funded by the Norwegian Government.
According to ZNFU project coordinator Cynthia Belemu, under the two programmes, ZNFU provided Market Linkage Support.
Ms Belemu said in the FISRI EUFF expansion programme, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and FAO have a component on mechanisation.
MACO and FAO seeks further collaboration with ZNFU on agricultural commercialisation, through the introduction of equipment hire which is to be supported with the purchase of tractors and matching equipment such as trailers, rippers, seeders, sprayers and shellers on a pilot basis.
" Initially the programme started in 2009 promoting conservation agricultural practices to 3,920 farmers in 12 districts and by 2010/2011 agricultural season the programme had expanded to 11, 872 small scales and 2011/2012 season to 20,058," Ms Belemu said.
The first two years of promoting conservation agriculture practices had focused on the use of smaller equipment such as hand sprays and chaka hoes.
And through implementation, it was realised that one of the limiting factors on the expansion of production among Small Scale Farmers was labour.
It was noted that most Small Scale Farmers depend largely on human labour and animal draught power.
With this background, FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Conservation Agriculture Programme are expanding the Conservation Agriculture Technology through the inclusion of mechanisation.
With this expansion, it is expected that the tractor services will enable Small Scale Farmers massively increase farm output and productivity while conserving the soil.
Furthermore, this will greatly contribute to addressing the unstable food prices in the Zambia.
To date, 10 tractors with matching equipment such as trailers, rippers, planters, boom sprayers and shellers are being used to practice conservation farming.
In the initial project, 26 contract farmers are receiving tractors with matching equipment while 180 farmers are receiving ox-drawn implements.
The total value of the equipment for tractors and ox-drawn implements beneficiaries is estimated at K6.3 billion. Under the programme the role of FAO is to provide technical assistance and the initial 26 tractors with matching equipment.
ZNFU would be the fund manager for the revolving fund; it will collect payments from the tractor beneficiaries and administer the second cycle for onward funding support with involvement of the Agriculture and Livestock and FAO.
ZNFU has also empowered all the 26 tractor beneficiaries and 180 ox-drawn implement beneficiaries with business skills through training and provision of business tools such as cash flows, invoicing, daily logbooks, service books and other business book keeping templates.
It is a developmental fund set up to assist in bridging the gap between the need for tractor hire services among small scale farmers and the lack of supply of finance by the commercial sector with which to purchase this equipment.
With the ZNFU Model, small scale farmers beyond the initial ministry of Agriculture and Livestock/FAO Project, beneficiaries will be able to access equipment using a revolving fund concept.
The model is a hybrid using experiences and success formulas from the Lima Credit Scheme, the Emergent Farmer Scheme, other successful business and development finance models.
The scheme would use electronic voucher to stimulate the demand for service in 2011/2012 agriculture season.
Under the voucher scheme for tractor service access, 4,800 small scale farmers are accessing the services of ripping, planting, and transport and shelling in the first season.
The selected farmers on practicing conservation agriculture are receiving a voucher for service hire, which they are redeeming with the tractor recipient upon provision of services such as ripping spraying, shelling, transport.
The concept also provides an opportunity to small-scale farmers to invest in power driven equipment with multiple use attachments. Over and above it will help farmers commercialise their farming operations.
The fund is targeting farmers who trained and are practicing Conservation farming under both the FISRI and CASPP programmes in Chongwe, Mazabuka, Monze, Kalomo and Kazungula districts in the first year of implementation. The selection of the beneficiaries is being done by the MACO and FAO.
The beneficiaries of the tractors are expected to repay back the value of the tractor in three years (maximum), with a fund administration fee inclusive into the principal payments. There are no direct interest rate charges.
It is recommended that an administration charge be computed at 1 per cent per month on the outstanding loan balance.
In the first year, the demand will be enhanced through voucher scheme for service hire to other surrounding eligible FISRI and CASPP Lead Farmers.
Even though the tractors were handed over to the recipients recently, the benefits are already being seen.
For instance, in an interview with one of the beneficiaries Alban Kalumbu of Ndubulula Camp in Chongwe, indications were that the demand for transport is overwhelming.
Mr Kalumbu said from the time he received the tractor on September 3, this year, he has been hired by fellow farmers transporting maize to the FRA sheds and markets.
Since FAO had not yet provided the sheller, he is already wondering how he can contribute to the cost of buying a sheller. He said the other immediate benefit that the community could testify to was the social benefit.
He said that when he is transporting the produce to the markets, patients are assisted with transport to the hospital. Transport has previously been a challenge in Ndubulula camp but the mechanisation programme has helped to easy that.
The tractor beneficiaries have also been empowered through ownership of tractors and other attachments as earlier mentioned.
The other immediate benefit that has been seen is the empowerment in terms of business skills, as can be seen from the testimony by Mr Kalumbu who from the income he has made so far, he is already thinking of re-investing.
Maheritona Munalula of Kazungula district in Southern province was able to repair his ripper at a cost of about K2, 000,000 using the income he made from the tractor hire services.
In the coming years, the mechanisation programme is expected to achieve the following:
To increase household income through improved tractor service supplies such as transport, ripping, spraying, and shelling for the surrounding communities.
The revolving fund will facilitate the increase in the number of farmers using mechanisation and act as a "Growth Factor" to agriculture.
It is for this reason that some farmers urged the Government to suspend import duty on agricultural machinery in the 2011 national budget to enable small scale farmers purchase equipment.
Kampelembe agriculture camp committee chairperson Pythias Timba said suspending the import duty will contribute to reducing of prices for the machinery because the law of demand and supply will be at play.
Mr Timba said more farmers should access agricultural equipment at lower costs as doing so will stimulate growth in the sector.
"With the promotion of mechanized equipment, there will be increased area under cultivation, increased food production, lower food prices and increased credibility and transparency in development fund management," Mr Timba said.
With the political will so far exhibited by the PF government in trying to address challenges facing various sectors of the economy, it is likely that such challenges will sooner than later be resolved.