Editor's Comment

Farmers need support in diversification programme

SMALL-SCALE farmers need machinery for them to effectively contribute to agricultural production and the country's economy.

THE dream of every peasant farmer is to mechanise their production processes.

When they see commercial farmers using combine harvesters, large disc ploughs, planters, cultivators and tractors, they aspire to rise to that level someday.
But the challenge is that majority of them have no capacity to procure such machinery and other farm implements.
As long as small-scale and emergent farmers continue encountering high costs associated with advanced agricultural equipment, Government’s efforts towards sustainable food production and poverty alleviation may not pay off anytime in the near future.
However, the farmers’ dream of graduating to another level may come true once Minsk Tractor Works of Belarus establishes a tractor assembly plant in Chipata, Eastern Province.
It is good that the firm, whose initial investment will be US$60 million, aims to accelerate mechanised agriculture in the region.
Zambian smallholder farmers will, therefore, be hoping that, since assembling of tractors will be done within the country, the cost of the vehicles will be affordable so that they, too, can be empowered and start producing crops on a larger scale.
However, agricultural mechanisation can only be fully realised when banks get involved in this important economic programme. Their participation should actually be with a view to offering our hard-working farmers flexible funds without demanding for collateral or debilitating interest rates.
When investors undertake ventures such as the prospective tractor assembly plant to empower locals, Government, through the central bank, is expected to put in place monetary policies that will enable peasant farmers to have access to flexible loan facilities.
Indigenous financing institutions such as National Savings and Credit Bank should then simply respond to Bank of Zambia’s policy in line with financing farmers who want to buy farm equipment. This way, there can be an assurance that the tractor assembly plant will not be a white elephant. It will be there to positively contribute to the country’s economic development as it will be a vibrant venture.
Another important aspect, apart from accessibility and affordability on the part of farmers, is the need for professional expertise that should ensure that the machines remain operational for a long time after being assembled. Providing training to farming communities in how to effectively use them can be an essential part of the project. The package should also include maintenance of the vehicles.
When empowered with “correct equipment”, small-scale and emergent farmers, as well as large-scale ones, are truly capable of contributing to the national economic diversification agenda. That is why Stanbic Bank should be commended for introducing flexible projects to support farming in mitigating risks that farmers face, including drought, which is currently affecting some parts of the country. Stanbic’s resolve to build farming infrastructure such as dams and provide irrigation equipment will lessen the burden of farmers who depend on rain-fed agriculture.
Farmers should be encouraged by the words of the bank’s head of agribusiness, Leon Kotze: “Stanbic Bank is well poised to support the diversification journey… We want to see farmers mitigating risks that are within the agribusiness management control…” This kind of support to key economic sectors is welcome.
Partnerships such as the one between Zambia National Farmers Union and NATSAVE aimed at promoting small-scale farmers’ access to affordable finance and equipment, as well as implementation of projects such as Stanbic’s farmer support programme and Minsk Tractor Works’ tractor assembly plant, will truly transform the agriculture sector through mechanisation. All year round, bumper harvests will lead to alleviation of poverty and increased income among farmers.

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