Mechanisation partnership pilot powers woman farmer into commercial success

By Anthony Muchoki

“For years we have been told that hand hoe belongs to the museum yet, it’s what most of our people use… I never thought in my lifetime I would own a tractor and ditch the hoe,” exclaims Mama Zuhura Chonya proudly looking at her machine doing rounds at a neighbor’s farm in Ifunda village, Iringa Rural District.

From farming with hand hoe for years, later on, animal traction and finally mechanical power, it has been a long journey, that has taken her almost three decades.

Most of her life has been a mix of teaching and farming, but after retiring last year as a teacher, she now concentrates with farming as a business full time.

In the last ten years, she ditched the hand hoe for ox ploughing, but deep in her heart, she always wished to have a tractor. “It was an impossible dream, yet kept lingering,” she says.

As a farmer leader, last April officials of ETC Agro Tractors & Implements Ltd approached her and convinced her to take a loan for tractor. After lot of soul-searching, she decided to take the risk.

Little did she know that it would change her life completely for better as a farmer and as a businesswoman.

“I think the best part of my life as a farmer started in May 2017, after I acquired this Mahindra Tractor you see here.. I am happy, and feel privileged,” says, the retired primary school teacher.

She uses the machine to plough her land. She does the same for her neigbours’ farms at a fee. When the tractor is not on farm, she uses it to ferry timber and other farm ware at a fee.

Initially, her plans were to repay the loan for the tractor within a year, but after making considerable income within three month, she settled the full amount.

The demand for the tractor services by smallholder farmers and businesses in her area have been very high. She says they find the machine doing a better job than hand hoes – the machine is quick and cost effective. Farmers groups organise themselves and hire the tractor to till their lands.
“This has been a very profitable undertaking,” she says. After paying her loan back in full by end of August 2017, in september and october the business was very good enabling her almost to to recoup her capital back. She is working with ETC Agro Tractors & Implements Ltd to acquire more farm implements.

Another lead farmer, Mr Chesco Mbereka based in Kilolo District and Morogoro Rural District, in June 2017, thanks to tracify partnership, with a downpayment of 30 percent at CRDB Bank, he managed to acquire a mahindra tractor from ETC Agro Tractors & Implements Ltd. He was in need of a tractor but never thought he would be able to acquire one

The last 3 weeks it has ploughed about 200 acres. “I am able to repay back my loan on timely basis”.

Mama Chonya and Mr Mbereka are part of millions smallholder farmers in Tanzania who in normal circumstances it is impossible to raise funds to purchase capital intensive farm machinery, like tractors in order to save labour and time. One of the major reason for the failure is lack of security to offer banks to get loans. In Tanzania banks very few financial institutions take farmland as collateral because of tittling complications and policies.

To change the situation, the two farmers by offering tractor services to their fellow smallholder farmers, apart from earning extra income it gives a big boost to the government’s effort to mechanise farming.

Mbereka is very happy that the new “Tractify” partnership takes that hurdle of collateral away. “I did not have any extra collateral for the loan. Once I had 30 % of the price of the tractor, CRDB was able to lend me the money for the tractor. ETC Agro has arrangement with the bank, so it was not complicated to get the machine!,” he notes.

According to Mrs. Hedwig Siewertsen, Head of Inclusive Finance in AGRA, many smallholder farmers would like to mechanise their operations, but lack of finance is one of the major hindrances.

For agriculture to move to next level, she says smallholder farmers like the duo need to mechanise their lands. Siewertsen is convinced that the partnership between AGRA and ETC Agro Tractors & Implements Ltd (EATIL) to improve the yields and incomes of about 40,000 smallholder farmers in Tanzania will leave a lasting mark.

Taking affordable access to mechanization to small farmers is a fundamental shift, that is able to double and triple their yields and incomes, she notes.

In the past smallholder farmers were not able to benefit from tractor import programmes as they could not afford the same. She says the current partnership is different as it brings in multiple partners ranging from financial institutions, local government authorities, private companies that buy produce and machinery companies working together to enable farmers to move from farming to survive to farming as a business that thrives.

Lead farmers and farmers’ group can now organise themselves and be able to own tractors and other mechanisation equipments,” she says, adding the model is very sustainable for its commercially viable for smallholder farmers.

The partnership pilot has started operations in Iringa and Mbeya, with a contribution from AGRA’s Financial Inclusion Program financed by the Mastercard Foundation.

Tringo: Major innovation

“We all understand that it might not be immediately possible for every farmer to buy a tractor. But at the same time the need for doing mechanised farming is there. We identify potential Lead Farmers who can contribute 35% margin money and qualify for financing from the nearby banks,” notes Mr. Praveen Chandra, EATIL Tanzania Country Manager.

With lead farmers with a tractor in the village, he or she uses it for his/her farm as well as rents it out to the nearby small holders at a reasonable price and on timely basis.

EATIL has developed a call centre “Tringo” where tractor owners irrespective of the brand can register themselves free of cost. Small holders farmers will use “Tringo” to rent tractors.

The hand hoe remains the major farm implement used in Tanzania, despite the commitment by successive governments since independence to have farmers embrace modern farming methods and relegate the hand hoe into museums.

Available data indicates that 70 per cent of production in the country is subsistence where farmers depend on hand hoe. The use of animal traction is estimated at 24% and the mechanical power is estimated at 13%.

Adoption of mechanised agriculture for smallholder farmers, would go along way to consolidate Tanzania as Africa’s powerhouse breadbasket, considering that the country has .about 44 million ha classified as suitable for agriculture and only about 10.1 million ha or 23% is under cultivation.