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Two Wheel Tractors using Private Sector based supply chains in Zimbabwe: discussion of options

Farm power for field operations in the context of Zimbabwe’s agriculture has historically been limited to manual, animal traction and four wheel tractor based systems. Two wheel tractors are a new form of on-farm power in the country. The FACASI project brings with it the concept of applying two wheel tractors to conservation agriculture using private sector based supply chains. One of the primary tasks of the FACASI project in Zimbabwe is to demonstrate to farmers, potential contractors, private sector supply chain actors and policy makers that two wheel tractors are another option for farm power. Comparative costs between the Animal traction based conventional tillage systems and two wheel tractor CA based systems are being analysed with farmers and some of the preliminary findings are as discussed in the sections below.

Discussion area 1 Entry point costs

The entry point level costs for a two wheel tractor/single row Fiterrelli planter combination crop establishment system as shown in Table 1 is higher than that of animal traction based conventional tillage and no till systems by only 8.5% and 7.7 % respectively. The same two wheel tractor single row planter combination is 7.9% and 9.3% is the cost of the smallest conventional four wheel tractor conventional tillage system and no tillage combinations respectively.

Table 1

Basic kit costs

Animal traction based conventional tillage systemsAnimal traction based CA systemTwo wheel tractor CA based systems
ComponentCost $ComponentCost $ComponentCost $
Power source4 oxen @ 500/ox 20004 oxen @ 500/ox 2000Two wheel 12Hp tractor (ATA) 2000
Primary and secondary tillageMouldboard plough(Zimplow)) 130no till planter(Grownet)600
Crop establishmentConventional planter (Zimplow) 450 Single row planter(Grownet)800
Total Kit Costs 2580 2600 2800

Note: All prices are in USD

Basic kit costs

Two wheel tractor CA based systems 4 wheel tractorConventional system4 wheel tractor CA system
ComponentCost $ComponentCost $ComponentCost$
Power sourceTwo wheel 12Hp tractor (ATA) 200060 Hp two wheel drive tractor(Bain)21,00060 Hp two wheel drive tractor(Bain)21,000
Primary and secondary tillage 2 Disc plough(Bain) Disc harrow(Bain)2500 3090
Crop establishment 3 row planter(Bain)90003 row No till planter9000
Total Kit Costs Total costs35,590 30,000

Discussion area 2: Timeliness of operation

The capacity of two wheel tractor based no till planting technology is at least 9 fold that of conventional tillage animal traction based crop establishment systems. The same two wheel technology is at least 50% higher as compared to animal traction based no till planting technologies on the market. Of interest is the fact that the two wheel tractor/two row Fiterrelli no till combination has a capacity of 40.7% of that of a 60HP no till planter despite having an initial cost of only 20% of the later.

*8 hrs for ploughing with draft animals is normally spread over three days as the daily duty cycle for oxen is 6 hrs.

**Available time is less than the 30 day planting period. Within the small holder farming sector in Zimbabwe, one day in a week is set aside as ‘Chisi’ day in which the local leadership does not allow people to work in the fields. The planting season begins with the rainy season which means of the remaining 6 days in a week you have a chance of interruption of field operations from the rains. Effectively you work with a 4-5day week equating to a 20 operational days for a month.

***The capacity of two wheel tractor based no till planting technology is based on an 8 hour day even though the tractor has a 24hr duty cycle.

Table 2
Timeliness of operations
Animal traction based conventional tillage systemsAnimal traction no till systemTwo wheel tractor no till systems(single row planter)Two wheel tractor based systems(double row planter)4 wheel tractorConventional system4 wheel tractor CA system (3 row planter)
Ploughing time (h/Ha)*18hrsN/AN/AN/A4N/A
Discing time (h/Ha) N/AN/AN/A0.8N/A
Seed and basal fertiliser establishment time (h/Ha)44320.850.85
Total time to establish a hectare (h/Ha)224325.650.85
**Potential capacity (hectares planted) given a 30 day planting period (Ha)5.53053***79.529.4195
Table 3

Duty cycle (maximum recommended usage time of power source per day)

Animal traction based conventional tillage systemsAnimal traction based CA systemTwo wheel tractor based systems4 wheel tractorConventional system4 wheel tractor CA system (3 row planter)
*Maximum recommended operational hours per day for power source*6 hrs*6hrs**24hrs***24 hrs***24 hrs

*The maximum recommended daily operational time for draft animals in Zimbabwe is 6hrs made up of three hours early in the morning and three hours late in the afternoon. The time in between is reserved for the feeding of the draft animals. Daily output of one such unit is therefore limited to what can be done in the 6 hours.

**The duty cycle for two wheel and four wheel tractors is based on that of the diesel engine which is 24hrs per day

The two wheel tractor technology offers a significantly higher duty cycle than animal based systems. Daily output is therefore limited only by the management capabilities of the operators and not power source as in the case of animal traction based systems

Discussion area 3 Labour productivity

The two wheel tractor/single and double row planter combinations offer significantly higher labour productivity levels as compared to both animal traction options and the four wheel tractor conventional tillage systems. The two wheel tractor/single row planter combination has a higher labour productivity level than the two wheel tractor/double row planter system.

Table 4

Labour productivity (for crop establishment operations)

Animal traction based conventionaltillage systemsmh/Ha)Animal traction based CA system mh/Ha)Two wheel tractor based systems(single row planter)mh/ha)Two wheel tractor based systems(double row planter)mh/ha)4 wheel tractorConventional system(3 row planter) mh/ha)4 wheel tractorCA system(3 row planter) mh/ha)

*An animal traction team requires at least two people, one leading the animals to maintain straight lines and the second controlling the implement (plough or planter). The operational time for each animal traction based activity is therefore multiplied by 2 to derive the input for man hours for the same operation.

**A two wheel tractor/single row planting system requires one operator and therefore the operational time is the same as the required man hours.

*** The two wheel/two row Fiterrelli planter combination requires at least two people with one operating and the second lifting and lowering the coulters at the headlands.

Discussion area 4 Energy costs in crop establishment

Fuel consumption levels for establishing a hectare of a crop (maize) are a fraction of those of conventional and no till four wheel tractor options.

Table 5 Fuel consumption data
Two wheel tractor based systems (with a two row Fiterrelli tractor) (L/Ha)4 wheel tractorConventional system(80 Hp) (L/Ha)4 wheel tractorCA system(3 row planter) (L/Ha)
Total per Hectare66315

* Measured fuel consumption data from a 4 Hectare block in Macheke

** Planning fuel consumption data from the University of Zimbabwe commercial farm

General Discussion

1. The two wheel tractor single row Fiterrelli planter combination has entry level costs that are approximately only 10% more than those of animal traction based conventional and no till systems but with a 9 and 2 fold increase in crop establishment productivity over the same systems respectively. Labour productivity of the two wheel tractor single row no till planter combination is 14.7 and 2.7 times that of animal traction based conventional and no till planters systems respectively.

Lowering entry point costs for a technology with the benefits of high capacity and improved labour productivity is critical in promoting its adoption by farmers and contactors as the money is often borrowed against some form of collateral. The shift from animal traction based crop establishment systems to two wheel based systems can be achieved with minimal increase in capital costs.

2. Entry level costs for the two wheel tractor single row Fiterrelli planter combination are pegged at US$2800 in Zimbabwe. Loan collateral requirements in Zimbabwe are prohibitive but the procurement value is within the widely available salary based loans. A standard salary based loan for $2800 spread over a two year repayment period equates to a monthly repayment of no more than $150. Zimbabwe has a large number of rural based professionals such as teachers, nurses policeman etc. who have access to such loan facilities. Is this not an additional business model to consider?

3. Animal traction based systems need extensive grazing infrastructure support systems. Given the low carrying capacity of most small holder lands (3-5Ha/livestock unit) in Zimbabwe and the fact that a standard conventional tillage crop establishment team is composed of 4 oxen, extensive areas are set aside for grazing to sustain draft power. The two wheel tractor/single row combination, with more or less the same entry point costs as the animal draft based kit, offers the opportunity for the country to make the shift, at nominal cost increases, and therefore release land from grazing. We can then consider alternative land use systems(for the grazing land) which are more viable or address pressing social issues to do with land access inequalities resulting from population increases and the insatiable demand for cropping land in the country .

4. Labour productivity in conventional animal traction based systems is estimated at 44 md/Ha (man days per hectare) which is very high compared to that of 3md/Ha for a two wheel tractor no till system. Is this not the low entry level alternative which would release labour and allow farmers the choice of what to do with their spare time or does this new option create greater unemployment within the agricultural sector?

5. Estimates of fuel consumption data indicate the two wheel tractor no till crop establishment combination uses 9.5% and 40% of diesel fuel per hectare that of 4 wheel conventional and no till combinations respectively. There is a huge potential for reducing energy costs in crop establishment and consequently improve on farmer margins.

6. In an environment in which markets for agricultural produce have been opened up to international competition, increasing producer prices to maintain farmer margins is not a sustainable option for Government. The alternative is to introduce interventions/innovations which lower crop production costs and specifically those related to mechanisation. A combination of low entry procurement costs, which reduce depreciation, interests and insurance costs, and low operational costs (high labour productivity, low energy costs, high work rates) which are all attributes of the two wheel tractor based no till technology appear to offer great scope in improving farmer viability.

The writer is the FACASI Project Country Coordinator for Zimbabwe and can be reached at











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