Embracing mechanisation in agriculture: Part Three …as high crop yields are linked to technology

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By Elton Ziki

THE Second Republic, through the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1), seeks to attend to the development and capacitation of key national institutions like ARDA, GMB and The Land Bank, among others. 

This will create an enabling environment critical for transformative economic growth in a bold and decisive manner. This approach will also determine the appropriateness of the mechanisation technology for adoption to increase agricultural productivity through to 2025 and beyond as Zimbabwe seeks to attain an upper-middle income economy by 2030.

Through the broad-based stakeholder consultative process, national priorities were identified in the macro-economic objectives for the five-year period of the NDS1 in order to accelerate value addition and beneficiation of agriculture and mining production.  

Increase in agriculture production and productivity, especially by smallholder farmers, will ensure food and nutrition security, enhanced income, increased opportunities for value addition and the development of agro-business value chains.   

Mechanisation, therefore, has to be prioritised in the key anchor sectors of the economy, primarily agriculture and mining.

In order to improve their productivity, smallholder farmers need a balanced package of technological inputs which are appropriate to their specific circumstances, just as large-scale farmers do. 

This balanced package is made up of individual components which include fertilisers, water, inputs, seeds, power inputs and plant protection materials. 

In order for smallholder farmers to utilise these production inputs effectively, it is critical to improve their access to better land resources, improved land tenure, more favourable input and output price synergies. 

What is also needed is a marketing structure which provides for a fair return on investment and labour, improved roads, transport and storage facilities, credit on reasonable terms and extension services, research programmes, education and training which are specific to their situations. 

In other words, the benefits from technological inputs in agriculture depend on a suitable local environment for optimum introduction and use. 

Without this environment, technological change is difficult to sustain and may create new social and economic dilemmas.

Increased land productivity, which means greater output per unit of land, depends on application of higher levels of technology that may result in improved or increased physical inputs and a higher level of knowledge and management capacity. 

It needs to be stressed that attention is on ‘application’, since simply introducing the ‘hardware’ of technology without introduction of support arrangements such as training, farmer motivation or incentives will produce sub-optimal success. 

Single technological inputs will seldom stand out as an output increaser, the inter-relationships between inputs and the inter-dependence of inputs and management are such that a ‘whole’ approach is essential to succeed.

Farming tends to be a multi-product enterprise and because of its biological character, agricultural production is a system of dovetailing parts which generate output only as a result of many technical factors working together or in sequence. 

Where it has been successful, it is not exclusively due to the new high-yielding wheat and rice varieties, nor to new fertiliser practices, nor to new disease and pest control chemicals, nor to a better supply of irrigation water, nor to higher levels of mechanisation alone, but to all of these factors combined harmoniously.  

In most cases, mechanisation has been the key to increased yields. In other situations, mechanisation has played a complementary role to the improved seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation or cultural practices which were collectively the key to yield increases, like precision planters for hybrid maize seed in the US in the l930s and grain drills which could accurately place seed and fertiliser for rain-fed wheat production in Turkey in the 1960s. 

Millions of small farmers in developing countries do not have access to irrigation. 

They are the high-risk farmers of rain-fed agriculture where rains are uncertain, moisture is uneven and crop yields depend on the farmer’s ability to time his/her operations so as to overcome the effects of climate change which are beyond his/her control. 

If these farmers are limited to hand tool-technology, as many now are, they will be limited by low crop outputs to a life of bare subsistence.

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