Katima Mulilo — The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry intends to acquire more 'walking tractors' in order to assist communal farmers to increase agricultural productivity, especially small-scale farmers in the northern regions of the country.
In the interim, the ministry is testing the effectiveness of 'walking tractors' on a pilot basis, which entails a series of consultations with communal farmers to gauge their views before the project can be rolled out to farmers.
According to Chief Agricultural Extension Officer in the Caprivi Region, Mathews Mushabati, the ministry has acquired four 'walking tractors' to serve as prototypes. The tractors are being showcased to farmers to learn how they operate and the multiple uses and applications of these cheaper tractor models.
"We are still in the de-monstration stages at the moment. These tractors are meant to assist farmers, especially communal farmers to increase their productivity. Instead of using ox-drawn ploughs in their fields, this tractor is easy to use," explained Mushabati.
Once they become available, the 'walking tractors' will cost about N$30 000 per unit. Mushabati said apart from showing farmers the benefits of the 'walking tractor', its flaws may also be discovered to allow for proper modification once the scheme has begun.
"With this demonstration again, we give a chance to farmers for comments that are either positive or negative so that when the tender to assemble these tractors is awarded, we know exactly what to do," said Mushabati.
The tractor, designed and mass-produced in Indonesia, is powered with an engine and has a fuel capacity of 20 litres. They can cover an area of about one hectare per day. As the name suggests, the fascinating tractor has handles that are held and controlled by a person on foot, while it does the rest of the job. Disc ploughs can also be fitted to the tractor.
The 'walking tractor' may also be used during the night since it has headlights just like a normal tractor. It is not clear how much farmers would have to cough up once the scheme has begun.
However, according to Mushabati, it will depend on who will be allocated the tender of assembling the tractors and their mark-up. "First of all, when the tender is awarded we would like to make sure that manufacturers are aware of the shortcomings. When they assemble these tractors only then will we know how much they may cost," said Mushabati.
Mushabati also maintained that it was premature now to know whether government would subsidize farmers wanting to procure the tractors. "It's too early to say that now. After everything is in place, we will know," stated Mushabati.
With farmers in the Caprivi Region having shown keen interest in this farming equipment, Mushabati said what is pending now is a comprehensive report on the pros and cons of acquiring this novel piece of farming equipment.
"After the demonstrations are done, we are going to compile a report detailing the feeling of farmers regarding the walking tractor. When all reports in northern Namibia have been made available, we would then know who willbe awarded the job of assembling these tractors so that they can finally be acquired by farmers," said Mushabati.
Many subsistence farmers in the Caprivi Region depend on ox-drawn ploughs to cultivate and plant their vast fields, an undertaking which is both time-consuming and labour-intensive.