Mechanisation makes small grains farming easier

Small grain crops

Small grain crops

Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
Due to the weather conditions in the lowveld, subsistence farmers are being encouraged to focus on small grain crops famed for their resistance.

Agricultural experts are trying to psyche the people to change their model of farming with practical viability in mind. However, farmers have not been too keen to shift from maize to crops like sorghum because of labour and output concerns.

Farmers believe that the work invested in growing sorghum, millet and rapoko does not tally with the returns. The disillusion has been dominant in the Chibwedziva area, Ward 8 of Chiredzi district in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo Province.

Farmers in the area have been sceptical of taking advice from experts and it is only now that they are seeing the feasibility. Agnes Mpome (41) is one of those who had vowed to stop growing millet in the absence of machinery or funds to pay extra labour.

“Our work used to be intense, we would wake up in the morning and work into the night. Despite our efforts, buyers would complain that our methods are reducing the value of our crops,” she said.

This placed her and other farmers in a fix, they wanted to use available resources to minimise costs but it seemed far from practical. “No one among us could afford to buy their own mill. This meant that the only solution was to quit growing small grains for a while until something gave,” Mpome said.

Luckily for her and her fellow farmers, they got reprieve. “Plan International came to engage us and they heard that on top of our wish list was a millet mill. They made a promise to bring us one and they delivered,” she said.

The new machinery has cut their work in epic proportions. “Daily if our mill is working properly, we process about five tonnes. But during the old days we used to use our hands to wean the crop we would do three bags at most,” she said.

If it was not an exploitative excuse used by corporates, Mpome believes they should make rich pickings from selling their grain to companies. “I believe the money that we have been getting improves because the quality of our grain has improved. Before we had a mill we would rely on our cattle kraals.

The hard surface provided by dry cow dung is what we used to thrash the corn on,” she said. Although they have benefited from Plan International, they do not wish to be a fixated on charity and assistance.

“If anyone wants help with their grain in the community, they pay $10 per tonne and then we assist them. The fee is not to gain profit but to ensure that if there is a problem with the machine it can be dealt with without going to our benefactors seeking help,” Mpome said. “Those who are not part of our project pay $15 per tonne and they can enjoy the same service.

“If someone wants their millet thrashed all they have to do is call us and we will assemble close to their homestead. We provide the machine as well as labour,” she said. Besides reducing the amount of work involved, the mill has revenue generation potential for the community.

The project`s committee chairman Trynos Gwayi says the mill has brought the community together. “The machine needs 12 people to function. The only person employed is the operator, everyone else works voluntarily,” he said.

A collective sense of communion has also emerged with the new asset. “Our community has gotten closer through this project. We hope to get more parts so that we do not stall operations for long in the event of a breakdown. We also understand that we have to use the machine with a sparing thought, it works for only eight hours per day,” Gwayi said.

Extension officers believe interventions of this nature will lead to the popularity of small grains. The area`s Agritex officer Mavis Kanganutsai is of the opinion that if farmers get more machinery to work with, small grains may be popular.

“The mill helps farmers because it saves them time. Before it was here, farmers would take a week thrashing a few bags but when the machine came through work was cut in half. Daily it covers about five tonnes,” she said. Unlike the traditional method the new way is likely to reap rewards for the farmers.

“Their grain is not being affected, the traditional methods resulted in losses. We properly teach the people that they are in region five and should not be stubborn. They should focus on resilient small grains. Farmers keep coming for advice on how to improve their productivity,” she said. The millet in the area is highly rated as seen by the type of market they attract.

“Right now they are selling their grain to Delta, Tongaat Hullet and a few other companies. With the less messy methods we could see other buyers favouring millet from this area,” Kanganutsai said. Plan International donated the mill to the village through their Promoting Rights and Accountability in African Communities Project.

Plan International Zimbabwe`s Communications Coordinator Grace Mavhezha said the gesture was part of their drive to empower communities and ensure that they reach a point of self- sustenance.

“This is one of our projects in which we are partnering with communities to ensure that they take an active part in the betterment of their community,” she said.

“We sourced the mill for them and helped them organise through a committee. They came up with their conditions of use as well as regulations which they know they will adhere to,” Mavhezha said.

“People are also gaining extra skills in the process, for instance the operator was trained specifically on running the mill. That is a skill he will take with him everywhere he goes,” said Mavhezha.

“Feedback from the village shows that the people have received the machine well. Two people would thrash four bags a day and now they are able to process about five tonnes within the same time,” she said.

More effort has to be directed towards reducing strenuous manual labour in household farming as it inhibits people’s transition from subsistence to commercial.

Chibwedziva is an example of how mechanisation can save time and farming resources if directed to a community in need.

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