The GOVERNMENT has mobilized more than 13 000 tractors that will be deployed for the 2023-2024 summer cropping season, as authorities pull out all the stops to secure yet another bumper grain harvest.
This comes as the distribution of inputs to farmers, which began on Independence Day in Mt Darwin, Mashonaland Central Province, has been intensified to ensure they reach farmers before the onset of the rains.
Traditionally, the distribution of inputs under Government support schemes starts in November, a development that has often been criticized for crippling farmers’ preparations.
According to the Government’s summer cropping season plan, the authorities are targeting cereal production of 3,7 million tonnes (3 060 000 tonnes of maize and 715 728 tonnes of traditional grains), which is enough to meet the country’s consumption requirements.
Department of Agricultural Engineering, Mechanisation and Soil Conservation chief director Engineer Edwin Zimunga said: “We have 13 500 tractors with their attachments (ploughs, planters, etc) at the farmers’ disposal.
“At least 249 out of the targeted 300 combines are ready to harvest the winter wheat crop before smoothly transitioning to the summer crop.
“The AFC (Agricultural Finance Corporation) Leasing Company has a fleet of 630 tractors and 54 combine harvesters.
“Additionally, other entities with tractors are DDF (now Rural Infrastructure Development Agency), ARDA (Agricultural and Rural Development Authority), and the private sector, which has additional hiring capacity.
“This is adequate for the targeted hectarage under summer tillage.”
Timely access to the equipment, said Eng Zimunga, will significantly boost production and productivity.
“The Government saw it imperative that farmers access mechanization services on time to secure the projected bumper harvest,” he said.
Zimbabwe last year expanded its fleet of farm mechanisation equipment to over 10 800 tractors and 189 combine harvesters, from 7 000 tractors in 2019.
The fleet has been enhanced further this year.
A bilateral deal between Zimbabwe and Belarus struck in 2018 has witnessed the country rapidly expand its farm mechanization program through the supply of farm equipment and training of local farmers in cultivation, seeding, irrigation, and crop harvesting.
Agricultural Advisory and Rural Development Services (AARDS) chief director Professor Obert Jiri said mechanization of production must be complemented by good agronomic practices.
He encouraged farmers to undertake land preparation early.
“The target areas for the major crops have only been increased by 10 percent,” he said.
“Our major thrust is to increase production per unit area, rather than drastically expand the cultivated area.
“Early input distribution is key and so all efforts are being directed towards that.
“As a lead ministry, we have set new records, but, as we go into the new season, we are aiming to surpass previous records for all crops.”
Overall, about two million ha will be put under maize production; sorghum (418 000ha); pearl millet (275 000ha); finger millet (27 500ha); soya bean (77 000ha); sunflower (160 000ha) and cotton (270 000ha).
Meanwhile, more than 3,5 million beneficiaries will receive input support from the Government under the Presidential Conservation Agriculture Inputs Scheme (Pfumvudza/Intwasa).
To curb the abuse of inputs from the scheme, the Government has introduced a new digital system to capture the distribution matrix.
The initiative is part of the ministry’s stance of going paperless through the use of digital applications.
This year, beneficiaries will sign up on the application before receiving the support.
Already, input distribution committees have been set up in every ward.
The distribution of inputs under this scheme will target households that have carried out pre-qualifying requirements: potholing or ripping a minimum of three plots each of 624m2 (0.0624ha), liming or organic matter placement, and mulch collection for at least one plot.
GMB depots will ensure that households receive inputs that are suitable for their specific agro-ecological region.
During the 2023/2024 season, each extension officer has been tasked with establishing a farmer field school in each village. These are learning centers for farmers.
In total, 35,000 farmer field schools will be established. Under the Private Sector Financing Programme, which is being anchored by the Food Crop Contractors Association, farmers will receive support to produce various grains on over 90 000ha, comprising 44 226ha for maize, 40 770ha of soya beans and 11 020ha for sorghum.