Mechanisation has been believed to be the preserve of large scale commercial farms and was typically characterized with large scale machinery such as the 90HP tractors and big tractor drawn or self powered shellers. Small scale farmers have resorted to manual labour for field operations or hiring from large scale farmers for those farmers who can afford. The Land Reform and Resettlement Program of 2000 ushered in a new crop of farmers, the A1 farmers, whose labour requirements are beyond manual labour but too small for the big machinery. Again the emergence of A1 farms has led to an increased shortage of mechanized equipment which was already in short supply. Some of the farms have been inherited by the new farmers who do not have the capacity to service the machinery thereby letting the farming equipment lie idle. This shortage of mechanization has led to a decrease in agricultural production and increased food insecurity in the country.
It is against this background that the ACIAR funded Farm Power and Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Intensification (FACASI) project targeted small mechanization technologies for communal farmers. Prior to project implementation, FACASI carried out focus group discussions with farmers in Mashonaland West (Makonde District) and Mashonaland East (Domboshawa) to identify the most labour intensive / drudgerous activities in farming. Drudgery has been associated with most of the field activities done manually in the farming sector. Shelling/threshing was highlighted as one of the most labour intensive operations together with planting and weeding. To address the identified drudgerous activities associated with farming FACASI introduced small scale mechanization. This initiative was meant to increase not only agricultural production but to improve livelihoods of people dependent on agriculture.
Mr Chapu, a 31 year old man is one of the beneficiaries from FACASI project who got electricity powered double cob sheller in 2016 through a partnership with a fellow communal farmer. During the same year Mr Chapu managed to shell 51.15 tons of maize despite the year being declared a drought year by the government of Zimbabwe. From the 51.15 tons the partnership realized just below USD1000 gross after selling to the Grain Marketing Board. However, the partnership did not work well in the first season as his partner duped him of the money meant for paying off the machine as well as making unfair demands from the proceeds. These drawbacks did not deter Chapu from venturing in the shelling business. If anything, these drawbacks inspired Chapu to use proceeds from the partnership to buy his own 2 shellers. As he had already seen that the partnership was not working, Mr Chapu decided to go it alone in the following season (2017). Despite the year being good in terms of rains and yields, Mr Chapu had to shrug off competition from big shellers who were coming as far away as Mhangura. Faced with the stiff competition, he had to change his clientele and target farmers with lower yields in villages with electricity and areas where big shellers find it difficult to reach. In 2017 alone, Mr Chapu shelled more than 53 tons of maize which saw him using proceeds from the shelling to acquire additional shellers. Mr Chapu now boasts of 3 shellers, 2 with an electric motor and 1 with a petrol engine. Given his acquisitions Mr Chapu is able to service communal farmers from areas with and without electricity unlike other service providers who either have electric powered motors or fuel powered engines.
Asked about the story behind his success, Mr Chapu attributes it to the FACASI project. He says most communal farmers wish to mechanise but often lack the skills, know- how and financial start-ups. This is precisely what FACASI delivered. First we were empowered through various training sessions that changed our perception on agriculture. While all along we viewed farming as a way of life FACASI changed all this through training us on commercializing agriculture through various initiatives such as conservation agriculture coupled with mechanization. Most importantly, I was part of innovation platform meetings amongst SPs in Makonde where we shared ideas amongst service providers on transforming peasantry into a commercially viable agricultural business. He has since benefited from business mentorship programs as well as linkages with farm equipment suppliers. Over the two years that Mr Chapu has been with FACASI project he has learnt to cut on his costs on his business. Currently with his three machines and two employees, he says the future looks bright and due to investments he has made can face competition even from big shellers. He believes that with the right mindset and support small-scale farming on its own can meet the country’s food needs but can also create the much needed employment. In closing I wish to see similar projects as FACASI being replicated in new areas but also being strengthened in areas that it has already been introduced.
‘Haa zvarongeka manje. Dai isiri FACASI yakativhura maziso nekuona mikana iri mufarming handizive kuti ndaizozvigona sei ’ (Things are now in order. Were it not for FACASI that opened our eyes I wouldn’t really know how we were going to make it in life). This was Mr Chapu’s answer after being asked on whether and how he has benefited from FACASI project. Mr Chapu was dependent on farming as a livelihood and would engage in unreliable casual work in order to make ends meet. But now with the coming in of the FACASI project he now has a guaranteed of a reliable source of income every shelling season. He no longer has to stress about school fees for his child and his lifestyle has already improved. Using proceeds from his business he is also diversifying into peanut butter making, an initiative which is being run by his wife. Mr Chapu has plans to invest in a bigger sheller to enable him to upscale his business and shrug off competition from service providers with big shellers.