YAP proposal #302: Unlocking the Potential of Smallholder Farmers through Mechanization and Conservation Agriculture (Arthur Chomba Eldred, Zambia)

 

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Conservation Agriculture (CA) is the buzzword in agriculture today and rightly so with all the benefits it has to offer to the farmers, not to mention to the environment. It has the potential to increase farm incomes, reduce drudgery, and reduce the labour requirements borne mostly by rural women.

In order to extend these benefits to the smallholder farmers, AgMech Mechanization Services was formed in Zambia to develop, manufacture, and promote CA technologies.

Our smallholder farmers in Africa are missing out on CA mostly because of low levels of mechanization and inadequate training. Planters are critical to CA systems but these have not been available locally and the imported models are prohibitively expensive. This is where AgMech comes in with its innovative solutions to make CA a reality for the rural farmers.

What we have done

Our flagship technology is an adaptable ox-drawn CA planter that can also be used as a ripper and a strip tillage tool (see a video at https://youtu.be/NmJJDEcrGKs). The planter uses vertical seed-plates and bicycle parts giving a simpler and affordable design that is more reliable and easy to repair in rural areas.

At USD 400, it is nearly half the price of some of the imported models. The planter can perform tillage and planting in one operation enabling early planting, reducing labour and production costs and together with CA, can increase cropping areas by up to five times over.

The pride and joy of our work though is a CA manual we have been writing to train the farmers to combine different technologies and practices into holistic production systems. CA involves the application of different technologies and therefore promoting it requires a flexible approach that will allow the farmer to develop systems by selecting technologies for themselves rather than prescribing standard practices for them. It is a paradigm shift in extension from telling the farmers what to do to empowering them to innovate.

The Motivation for AgMech

I am Arthur C. Eldred, 37, and agricultural engineer from Zambia with nine years of experience in CA research and development. I started AgMech to commercialize the technologies I developed after realizing the potential impacts they could have in transforming smallholder agriculture and rural livelihoods.

The biggest motivation, however, was from the farmers who insisted on buying the planters at prototype stage after hearing about it by word-of-mouth. Therefore AgMech was formed out of necessity and opportunity.

What we intend to achieve

We have succeeded in building our own mechanical workshop and acquired some of the main pieces of equipment. We are planning to sale 40 planters this year which we have started producing but need extra funding to complete. Production costs are about USD 150/planter.

These 40 planters will be sold directly to the farmers as part of a promotional drive but eventually we are targeting bulk sales to the many project involved in the promotion of CA. We hope to sale several hundred planters within Zambia in the coming two to three years, and several thousand once we penetrate the export market. We intend to use the USD 5,000 as follows:

  • USD 1,000 for the remaining workshop equipment
  • USD 2,000 for material costs, electricity, and consumables
  • USD 500 for hired labour
  • USD 1,500 for administrative and distribution costs.

Conclusion

‘If undertaken in a sustainable and inclusive way, mechanization can be a game changer for agricultural systems, helping remove the drudgery associated with farm work, overcoming time and labour bottlenecks, and reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture.’ —Ren Wang, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

This statement couldn’t be more true, but making it a reality will require coordinated efforts between stakeholders, particularly the involvement of the private equipment manufacturers. This underscores the importance of initiatives like AgMech.

Blogpost and picture submitted by Arthur Chomba Eldred (Zambia): arthurchomba[at]yahoo.co.uk

The content, structure and grammar are at the discretion of the author only.

 

This post is published as proposal #302 of “YAP” – our “Youth Agripreneur Project”.

The first selection of the winners will be based on the number of comments, likes and views each proposal gets.

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“YAP” is part of the #GCARD3 process, the third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development.


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