The Sunday Mail
Dr John Basera
AGRICULTURE occupies a central place in influencing Zimbabwe’s industrialisation and development agenda.
The associated downstream and upstream industrial activities enable the agriculture sector to be up to four times impactful in reducing poverty, ending hunger and building resilience of the general populace of Zimbabwe. The national population has grown by over 15 percent from 13 million people in 2012 to 15,179 million as at April 2022.
More people have to be fed.
Consistent with the sector’s mantra of “Going for Growth”, Zimbabwe has to achieve this feat internally at all cost, thus guaranteeing healthy productive lives all the time.
One of the major constraints to the expansion and modernisation of agriculture is the low level and limited use of mechanisation, especially by smallholder farmers.
Provision of agricultural mechanisation services enables leapfrogging from current production and productivity levels across all agricultural enterprises.
Mechanisation is among the critical ingredient services crucial to increasing production and productivity. The effect is more pronounced in the smallholder farming sub-sector.
The other ingredients required include digitalisation, telecommunications and transport, as well as financial and insurance services.
A sustainable agriculture and food systems transformation has to be anchored in a robust agricultural mechanisation thrust. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) asserts that mechanisation covers all levels of farming and processing technologies — from simple and basic hand tools to more sophisticated and motorised equipment.
It eases and reduces hard labour, relieves labour shortages, improves productivity and timeliness of agricultural operations, improves the efficient use of resources, enhances market access and contributes to mitigating climate-related hazards.
Farm mechanisation holds the key to unlocking the value of Zimbabwe’s rich agricultural potential.
FAO, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and development partners have launched a technical cooperation project titled “Developing a Roadmap to Leverage Sustainable Agricultural Mechanisation for Climate Smart Agriculture (SAM4CSA) in Southern Africa”, which seeks to address challenges around sustainable agricultural mechanisation in the region.
The project was developed within the framework of the FAO Southern Africa flagship programme on SAM4CSA.
In 2018, FAO and the Department of Rural Development and Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment of the African Union Commission developed the Framework for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanisation in Africa.
The framework provides the blueprint for sustainable agricultural mechanisation (SAM) in Africa. Among other key elements of the framework, it focuses on making mechanisation environmentally sustainable by highlighting the importance of transforming land preparation, cropping and husbandry practices.
Mechanisation falls under pillar one of the SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan for 2020–2030.
Experiences in other continents and especially in the developing economies of Asia and Latin America show that agriculture has been transformed in recent years into a progressive commercial industry.
Zimbabwe, like the rest of the region, has to scale up production and orient subsistence farmers towards commercial agriculture.
Investment in agricultural mechanisation has enabled farmers to intensify production and improve their quality of life, as well as contributing to local and national food and nutrition security. In countries such as India, China, Brazil and Türkiye, the rapid expansion in farm machinery demand has stimulated the growth of local machinery manufacturing to the point where these countries are now major producers and world leaders in farm machinery exports.
Much the same could happen in Africa and Zimbabwe if farmers could be helped to intensify their farming by increasing levels of mechanisation.
This would lead to improved land use, increased food production, enhanced rural prosperity and, on a national scale, greater export potential and less reliance on imports.
Zimbabwe is alive to the regional, continental and global developments around agricultural mechanisation.
Through the Ministry, various facilities have been rolled out and more are on the cards, targeting smallholder farmers.
Zimbabwe’s agricultural growth has to outpace the 15 percent population growth to insulate itself from the disruption of global commodity supply chains arising from Covid-19, natural disasters and geo-political conflicts, among other growth retardants.
The urgent conviction is to increase agricultural production and productivity at all costs to achieve food self-sufficiency.
A stocktaking exercise of agricultural machinery and implements reveals shortages requiring urgent redress.
Tractor statistics have traditionally been used as an indicator of the mechanisation level. As of 2020/2021, Zimbabwe had 7 800 tractors, representing a 19,7 percent mechanisation rate. Since then, there have been renewed efforts and commitment to increase mechanisation capacity.
Collaboration and partnerships with the private sector increased the number of tractors to the current estimate of 12 800 units, representing a 32 percent mechanisation rate.
Similarly, the combine harvester fleet also grew by 60 percent from 171 to 274 units, against a national requirement of 600 units.
The Ministry seeks to surpass the 60 percent mechanisation target for critical machinery and equipment by 2025.
Under the mechanisation programme, Zimbabwe has witnessed an increase in the area under crops.
The programme has also contributed towards increased yields, mainly due to the precision with which the farming tasks have been accomplished.
An impact to reckon with, courtesy of the mechanisation drive, is the 2022 bumper wheat harvest of up to 380 000 tonnes.
The crop was harvested quickly enough not to coincide with the rainy season and, more importantly, this was the highest production level ever recorded since the 1960s.
The mechanisation thrust seeks to achieve larger production volumes, better harvests, increased income and profitability, as well as employment creation.
It is recommended that new farming tools be environmentally sound, economically affordable, adaptable to local conditions and resilient in terms of changing weather patterns and climate.
Mechanisation is expected to expedite the process of rural agriculture transformation, industrialisation and development.
As a result of a solid commitment from the Government to sustainably transform lives, a number of mechanisation facilities are being implemented.
A sizeable number of farmers have and are still benefiting from about seven exciting and highly impactful mechanisation facilities.
These include the US$51 million John Deere facility (tractors and disc harrows); the US$51 million Belarus Phase 1 facility (tractors); the US$52 million Belarus Phase 2 facility (tractors and disc harrows); the US$20 million Bain New Holland facility (tractors, ploughs and disc harrows), the US$169 million Belarus Phase 3 facility (tractors) and the US$5 million smallholder (Pfumvudza/Intwasa) mechanisation facility (two-wheel tractors and ripper tines) and the US$6 million Local Manufacture Mechanisation facility (disc harrows, ploughs and ridgers).
As a way of promoting transparency, accountability and sustainability in the distribution of mechanisation equipment, all the machines are distributed by banks on behalf of the dealers, Government and manufacturers. In a bid to promote the local industry and ensure sustainability, under the Agricultural Mechanisation Development Alliance, the Ministry is working with the academia, local equipment manufacturers and dealers, as well as the country’s university innovation hubs, to prototype and expand local capacity to produce various tools, machinery and equipment that support agricultural mechanisation.
In all these facilities and initiatives, Government is facilitating while the private sector is taking the lead. There is strong emphasis on the capacitation of local manufacturers of mechanisation equipment and manufacturers of machinery and equipment components and spares. Deliberately, the Government now only supports imports of sophisticated machinery, while all other attachments and implements are manufactured and supplied by local companies.
These are two-wheel tractors, ploughs, disc harrows, boom sprays and mechanical seed drills, among other pieces of tractor implements and attachments.
Under the National Standards Framework, the Ministry has partnered the private sector and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, as well as the Standards Association of Zimbabwe, to adopt, adapt and develop technical specification and testing standards to protect local manufacturing from cheap and sub-standard imports. Capital equipment is expensive but under the highlighted facilities, farmers benefit through concessionary three-year “lease to buy” arrangements.
The Government de-risks the arrangement by offering tight structured performance guarantees.
Having unanimously agreed on the importance of agricultural mechanisation across all the farming sectors, the New Dispensation, as ably led by President Mnangagwa, has made an undertaking to mechanise and modernise the agricultural sector, leaving no place and no one behind and build production efficiencies.
Through continued co-operation and partnerships, the agriculture sector is poised for radical transformation and sustained growth in 2023 and beyond.
Dr John Basera is the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development.