Limited access to mechanized equipment, such as tillage equipment and tractors, is one of the main reasons for the poor crop yields of Zambian smallholder farmers. Furthermore, the lack of mechanised agriculture only allows farmers to prepare limited areas of land before it is time to plant. Delayed planting is common which causes further reduction in the yields. Overall, poor agricultural productivity and quality limits the smallholder farmers’ participation in WFP’s local purchase for the home-grown school meal programme in Zambia.
Connecting farmers to private companies
In its bid to help improve smallholder farmers’ productivity and marketed volumes, P4P worked in partnership with the private company Dunavant Zambia Limited. Under this initiative, 19 selected farmers, including 6 women, received a package of tractors, rippers and trailers from Dunavant. The equipment was given to the farmers on a loan basis at a 12 percent annual interest rate.
The model not only aims to improve the farmer’s time bound agronomic practices but also to enable the acquisition of business skills that would allow them to earn more money. For example by servicing some 60 other smallholder farmers with land preparation they would be able to repay the loans for the tractors within three years.The model for provision of shellers is slightly different as they are given to farmers’ organizations or selected individuals on loan basis without interest. A commitment fee is a requisite in both models.
The ripple effect of a tractor loan
Through the project, farmers who receive tractors, become the mechanized service providers in their own villages and extended neighbouring communities. They are servicing their loans by providing tillage services such as ripping and ploughing for other smallholder farmers in the area. With a tractor, they can also provide transportation, which is a lucrative business in rural areas.
BEST RECORD KEEPER
In 2011, only a year after Wilber Mujile received his tractor he was awarded ‘Best Record Keeper‘ by WFP and the partners Dunavant and Profit. Wilber attributed his success to the business management trainings that he received through P4P.
“Before receiving my tractor, my records were very poor and I only recorded the number of maize fields ripped. But now, each and every day after work, I record more details about my haulage services, including how much money I am owed, how many fields I have ripped and for who“.
Wilber Munjile is one of the farmers who received a tractor when the initiative started in 2010. Thanks to the income he has made from his tractor, Wilber is now able to meet most of the household expenses including school fees for his six children. This would have been impossible with his inadequate income, just a few years ago, even though the school fees were lower then.
Emerging opportunities for Zambian farmers
One of the farmers benefitting from Wilber’s mechanized service provision is Benita Kasamba who has been practicing conservation agriculture for many years. “It used to take us three months to cultivate a hectare of land only using hoes in the heat. However now, it only takes about an hour. This has made our lives so much better as we have more time for other work”, said Benita.
Some financial institutions in Zambia have shown great interest in the results of this initiative. P4P and its partners are hoping that an increased interest in loan provision to farmers investing in agriculture equipment like tractors, will help to ensure access to mechanized service providers beyond the P4P project.
Expanding the project to include more women
The third phase of this project is expected to be in place by the next planting season in November 2013. P4P Zambia will continue to support initiatives that aim at improving the farmers’ access to technology that decreases the labour intensity of farming, hence improving time-bound agronomic practices and revolving funds.
In order to reach more women and other groups of smallholder farmers’, the initiative has already been expanded to include animal draught power, a model which is most suitable to the hectares cultivated by these farmers. This project will be implemented by the partner organisation Heifer International. Each of the 30 families participating in the programme will receive two heifers each. A “pass-on the gift” system will ensure the project sustainability and ownership by the community as the owners continue to pass on the first offspring from the animal to the next farmer on the waiting list. Participants will pay a commitment fee of 20 percent of the value of the heifers.
Story by Aurore Rusiga, P4P Zambia