SMALL-SCALE farmers in Zambia are still facing challenges in accessing mechanised equipment for increased agricultural productivity.
Some of the eminent challenges include lack of access to credit and long-term finance in their various farming enterprises.
Against this background, the Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF), which is the mother body of the cooperative movement in Zambia, has embarked on an ambitious programme aimed at addressing small-holder challenges in attaining self-reliance and increased income.
The primary objective of the project is to contribute towards job creation and rural income in order to improve the livelihoods of farmers at small- scale level through mechanisation.
ZCF has since take drastic steps in signing a partnership agreement with AFGRI, which is a South African organisation, meant to empower smallholder farmers' access to mechanisation.
The programme is, essentially designed to increase smallholder production.
In this regard, ZCF will mobilise District Cooperative Unions (DCUs) through the Provincial Cooperative Unions (PCUs) to engage Primary Cooperative members to contribute maize or cash equivalent towards the acquisition of farming implements under the AFGRI Tractor for maize scheme with ZCF standing out as collateral for the farmers.
The ZCF/AFGRI mechanisation programme, the two partners signed is a milestone achievement in building the capacities of farmers through the tractor for maize programme as it will enable farmers' access machinery that will assist them in increasing their area under cultivation aimed at boosting the food production levels in the country.
ZCF Director General James Chirwa says the initiation of the programme is tailored at building capacity in the Zambian co-operative movement as businesses through jointly packaged education and training programmes will result in viable and sustainably run cooperatives.
ZCF has prioritised the agriculture mechanisation for smallholder farmers organised in cooperatives as the first intervention plan.
Among its numerous plans that will be rolled out in the next five years under its five year strategic plan designed at increasing smallholder production, which is expected to contribute to poverty alleviation and improved food security.
"The programme is tailor made at the provision of equipment such as tractors, ploughs,planters,rippers, disc harrow sprayers, spreader or harvesters on a special group loan scheme, which are enshrined in the partnership agreement that the two parties have signed," said Chirwa.
He revealed that individual farmers in co-operatives will contribute grain or soya beans or cash towards the acquisition of farming implements under the AFGRI Tractor for maize scheme.
Mr Chirwa further said the beauty of the programme, was that it would allow farmers to pay for equipment over three years and co-operators, will only contribute 30 percent of the initial deposit and 70 per cent balance, be paid in three years with no collateral offered, the only proof needed was evidence that cooperatives were able to achieve the targets set out to purchase units.
Mr Chirwa said it is envisaged the programme will be implemented at Block level within participating districts targeting individuals, cooperatives, Groups of Co-operatives, District Unions and Provincial Cooperatives Unions to access products and services of the developed programme.
AFGRI Group Stakeholder Relations Director Mulco Manyama alludes to the fact that empowerment and access to opportunities like skills development and access to modern farming equipment such as tractors and other implements were essential to enhancing agriculture production.
Mr Manyama says the objective of the programme was to bring hope and provide farmers with an opportunity to get weaned off from small-scale farmers to emergent farming.
This will also help farmers do away with traditional or basic farming equipment and bring in mechanisation.
"lnvestment and more investment in agricultural programmes like maize for tractor exchange will emancipate our small-scale farmers and contribute towards economic growth," said Manyama.
In this vein, Government has reaffirmed ZCF/AFGRI commitment and pointed out that it encourages the private sector participation in enhancing production of small holder farmers as this would be a boost to most farmers given that the current production levels are very low.
Agriculture and Livestock Deputy Greyford Monde commended the private sector, being the key players in the agriculture sector for coming to the aid of the farmers and also pointed out that he would like to be part of the tractor programme that will soon be delivered to the benefitting farmers in co-operatives in various districts and farming blocks in the country.
It is also worth noting, insurance has been put in place for the farmers considering that farming is a risk enterprise to engage in and MayFair Insurance has taken this leading role in ensuring that compensation and risk management is addressed. In this regard, Mayfair Insurance recognises the important role that the agriculture sector plays to the economic status of the country.
MayFair Insurance managing director, Humphrey Kabwe says agriculture is a bedrock of the nation and therefore remains a key strategic sector of growth and future sustainability.
Mr Kabwe said He is of the view that MayFair is committed to complement by way of insurance and risk management guidance. Despite the small-scale and medium farmers who are the majority of farmers, have been constrained, this financial institutions regard them as high risk individuals and entities.
"This mechanisation programme therefore, coupled with collaborated initiatives of insurance and risk management guidance will support farmers' productivity levels while also increasing confidence levels of financiers' motivation to lend," Kabwe said.
He also explains that the beauty of Mayfair Insurance is that, it has embarked on developing initiatives that are tailor made to mitigate defined losses within the farming community and to also provide insurance and major initiatives to small scale farmers who ordinarily do not have access to insurance service providers.
The partnerships such as ZCF and AFGRI provides a conduit through which Mayfair Insurance can reach out to farmers in rural areas and offer protection coupled with risk management services.
Mr Kabwe thanked the Government for continuously building the productivity capacities of small and medium scale farmers, which in turn will empower farmers through micro insurance and risk management capacity building will increase productivity and economic growth.
It is hoped that the partnership between ZCF/AFGRI will yield tangible results among the small-scale farmers in their endeavours to increase food production and their income through mechanisation in their farming communities.-NAIS