Mechanisation: Secret weapon to stimulate agric growth Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko shares a lighter moment with President Mnangagwa, Vice President Dr Constantino Chiwenga and other senior officials during the launch of Phase 2 of the Belarus Mechanisation Facility at the Institute of Agricultural Engineering, in Pomona, Harare recently.

Edgar Vhera-Agriculture Specialist Writer

THE agriculture production terrain has over the past four years undergone an expansive makeover, thanks to the Second Republic’s astute decision to introduce the John Deere and Belarus tractor facilities that bolstered the country’s mechanisation and modernisation plans for the farming sector.

This put the nation on course to achieving the US$8,2 billion agriculture industry it envisaged to achieve by 2025, but was attained in 2022.

Government’s re-engagement efforts and its “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” mantra saw President Mnangagwa holding a historic meeting with John Deere Agriculture Worldwide president Mr Mark von Pentz that culminated in John Deere returning to the Zimbabwean market after a 20-year absence.

At the commissioning of the US$51 million mechanisation facility in 2020, President Mnangagwa said: “The launch of the facility attests to the commitment by my Government to work with various partners and investors, guided by the Zimbabwe is Open for Business mantra to grow and prosper our economy so that our people enjoy better life.”

This came as the President had earlier expressed concern that only one million farmers were using power, half a million using tractors while 2,8 million needed mechanisation. This would enable total utilisation of the country’s 4,31 million hectares of arable land.

“The John Deere facility is therefore a welcome development, as it will assist our farmers with the much needed mechanisation solutions. This facility will also help ensure the success of our Agriculture Recovery Plan, which is meant to allow Zimbabwe to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of cereals.

“Increased production and productivity must ultimately result not only in self-sufficiency and exports but also in the creation of decentralised industry systems especially in rural areas,” remarked President Mnangagwa then.

And true to his word the country has achieved food self-sufficiency from local production and has also achieved its US$8,2 billion agriculture industry well before its 2025 target.

The US$51 million John Deere Farm Mechanisation Facility will see the country receiving 1 300 tractors, 80 combine harvesters, 200 disc harrows, 600 planters, 100 boom sprayers and 100 trailers.

The facility was split into two phases and the first phase worth US$20 million had the country receiving 525 tractors, 40 combine harvesters and 100 boom sprayers. 

Last year 60 tractors, 35 combine harvesters, 66 disc harrows and 48 planters had been delivered and distributed and these will increase the tillage and harvesting capacity by 6 000 and 15 000 hectares respectively. 

Hard on the heels of the John Deere Farm Mechanisation facility, President Mnangagwa launched the US$51 million Belarus Farm Mechanisation phase one in September 2020 after his visit to that country in 2015 and 2019 where he was impressed by the way Belarus’ agriculture sector was mechanised, which emboldened his vision for a food-secure Zimbabwe.

The first phase saw the delivery of 474 tractors, 60 combine harvesters, 210 planters and 5 lowbed trucks. The equipment was distributed to Government institutions such as ARDA, RIDA, ZPCS among others, AFC Leasing Company and individual farmers through local banks and this increased the 2022/23 tillage and harvesting capacity by 50 000 and 60 000 hectares respectively. 

Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Development Minister Anxious Masuka (centre), Sevenza Farm owner Mr Tawanda Garwe (right) and farm manager Mr Eric Chitomba watch as one of the combine harvesters bought under the Belarus mechanisation facility harvests wheat in Shamva in 2020.

The second phase was launched this year by President Mnangagwa and his Belarusian counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko.

“So we have decided to mechanise and modernise our agriculture and this we have achieved in three years. What follows now is to increase the yield level per hectare. I hope in another three to five years, the level of mechanisation in Zimbabwe will be as good as what I have seen in Belarus,” said President Mnangagwa during the Phase 2 launch.

“My Government and the people of Zimbabwe attest to the increased production and productivity to technology and expertise that our Belarusian partners have shared with us. Last year’s bumper wheat harvest was a result of increased tillage and harvesting capacity enabled by mechanisation from Belarus.

“I am a wheat farmer and I produced 4 000 tonnes all thanks to the mechanised equipment and combine harvesters from Belarus.”  

The second phase of the Belarus Farm Mechanisation, which was initially worth US$52 million and meant to supply the country with 1 337 tractors, 16 combine harvesters and five disc harrows was upped to US$66 million after an additional 298 tractors and other farming equipment including boom sprayers were added. The equipment is being distributed to creditworthy farmers through local banks.

The entire equipment under both phases is accessible to all farmers either through ownership or accessing mechanisation services through service providers such as AFC Leasing Company. 

The total amount of equipment under the two phases is 1 811 tractors, 76 combine harvesters, 210 planters, five disc harrows and five lowbed trucks. The tractors and combine harvesters have a potential to service almost 200 000 and 50 000 hectares respectively. It is, therefore, anticipated that the equipment under the Belarus facility will ameliorate the challenges by farmers of timely access of mechanisation services.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union secretary general Mr Paul Zakariya said the equipment procured under the Zimbabwe/Belarus agreement was of good quality and could sustain our agricultural transformation agenda.

Pan-African Chamber of Commerce board member Dr Langton Mabhanga said: “The President is evidently and relentlessly focused on growing the country’s agricultural productivity by a disruptive multiplication factor. The agriculture equipment to agricultural productivity is what both weaponry and game theory are, to a warfare.

“I reckon that the high-level food security strategy in the President’s quiver is comprehensive. His design approach to national food security and Sustainable Development Goal two (SDG 2) – zero hunger, has no room for opportunistic production.”

Economist Mr Persistence Gwanyanya said mechanisation was key to increasing yield levels in the agriculture sector which increases supply of raw materials for the manufacturing sector.

The country continues to close the deficit for tractors and related implements with the national requirements standing at over 40 000, of which about 12 000 are available. Seventy-five 75 percent of the equipment is functional. 

The tractor shortfall, which was once over 30 000 two years ago has shrunk to over 25 000 as Government and private sector players procure and avail more tractor and associated implements to farmers. 

New Farm Mechanisation Facilities

The Government is working on new farm mechanisation facilities with various financial models wherein efforts are being made to crowd-in the participation of local banks to finance such facilities. 

The Ministry has received proposals from various suppliers, which are worth more than US$400 million and may see the country taking delivery of close to 10 000 tractors and related implements.

Part of the fleet of tractors from Belarus at Hatcliffe Institute.

One facility, which is worth US$20 million has already been approved and its launch is scheduled for mid 2023. This facility will see the country taking delivery of 700 tractors.

Local Manufacture 

of Farm Implements

To increase access to farm machinery, the Government is financing the local production of farm implements, which will be used as attachments to tractors being imported under the John Deere and Belarus Farm Mechanisation facilities. 

The equipment that is being manufactured includes 500 rippers, 500 disc ploughs, 800 disc harrows, 500 boom sprayers and 200 maize shellers. Part of the funds for procurement of these locally manufactured implements has been availed and some of the companies have already started to deliver.

The department of Mechanisation has revealed that over  the last three years the country imported 111 combine harvesters under the Belarus and John Deere Farm Mechanisation facilities. 

The Belarus combine harvester has the capacity to do 20ha per day, which means all the imported combine harvesters under these two facilities have the capacity to cover more than 75 000ha. 

From these simple calculations, it is assumed that the country has enough farm mechanisation requirements to cater for the 2023 winter wheat production, the mechanisation department has revealed.

To escape post-production losses, the Agriculture Ministry will ensure that all wheat farmers timely access to combine harvesters so that the wheat is not damaged by rains.

AFC Leasing Company of Zimbabwe

To cater for poorly-resourced farmers who cannot purchase agricultural machinery, the Government created the AFC Leasing Company of Zimbabwe to provide affordable services to all farmer categories from land preparation to harvesting, shelling and drying.

The AFC Equipment Leasing Company has 630 tractors, 54 combine harvesters, 4 lowbed trucks, 130 planters, disc ploughs, disc harrows and shellers, which are accessible to all farmers. The farmers secure services through either cash payments, the stop-order system at GMB de-pots after delivering produce.

When fully equipped with the necessary attachments/implements, the company can service more than 60 000 hectares but is currently doing around 40 000ha.

A beneficiary of AFC winter wheat contracting arrangement, Mr Charles Sithole of Montecristo Farm in Marondera said he was planning to increase hectarage to complement Government’s efforts of ensuring wheat self-sufficiency.

“I have been producing farming for the past three seasons. Last season I was contracted by AFC to produce 20ha. I got a complete input package and the working capital plus mechanisation services. 

“I managed an average yield of five tonnes per hectare, which I delivered to GMB,” he said.

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