Mechanisation of smallholders in Zambia by agrodealer development
The main challenges hampering agricultural mechanization in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are affordability, availability, lack of farmer skills and constraints within the private sector. Smallholders are trapped in a vicious circle of low income, low demand, high cost, and lack of financing. Low capacity and lack of support for mechanisation contractors (agrodealers) to succeed is holding back the development. The objectives of this work were (i) to assess the affordability of mechanisation systems along with conservation agriculture for smallholders in Zambia; and (ii) to develop and evaluate economically a novel approach of farm service centre (agrodealer) for supporting and training smallholders. Two rural locations with smallholder community and conservation farming extension service and an agrodealer available have been used for trial. The agrodealers were given mechanization packages to operate and offer the service to local smallholder community. The mechanisation package consisted of: 82HP 2WD tractor, 3 tine ripper, off-set disc harrow, 3 row planter, 3 tonne trailer, 12m boom sprayer, and a maize sheller. The performance of agrodealers was monitored by telemetry data (standard reports such as daily engine hours, and advanced GPS tracking analysis to detect boundaries of worked areas for example), agrodealer sales invoices, agrodealer accounting data, and site visits. The results of agrodealer performance analysis demonstrate the following: fieldwork was conducted on 142 days out of available 393 calendar days; tractor worked 980 engine hours during this period; a total of 219 jobs were done; invoiced area was 364 ha; average worked area was 2.3 ha; seasonal work rate was 3.8 ha/day (0.5 ha/hr); revenue generated 32–43 USD/ha. The conclusions are as follows: contracting business (agrodealer) can be made to work, however, in early stages needs support (set up with financial aid, time to build customer base). Use of simple telemetry has allowed remote monitoring of contracting business (agrodealer). Benefits of mechanised conservation farming have been made more visible to farmers. Conservation agriculture practice, soil and water preservation is key. Current yields show a significant yield improvement of mechanised ripping for maize establishment versus ox driven techniques of 5.2 t/ha during difficult season (mean yield 5.5 t/ha and 0.3 t/ha respectively). Both agrodealers capitalised difficult season (drought) to demonstrate the impact of mechanised conservation farming to the community by organising field days. Well trained and equipped outfits are capable of making a difference to the smallholder farmers: correct technique, correct equipment, trained operator are the key to success. Further work is required to improve the efficiency of tractor field work: planning, logistics, operator training, field conditions (stumps, trees etc).