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AGCO Zambia Future Farm Heralds New Opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Steve Werblow, USA

Karin Taferner of Austria shares a photo with two young residents of the AGCO Future Farm’s farmworker compound.

With the official opening of its 150-hectare (371-acre) Future Farm demonstration and training center just outside Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka on May 27, AGCO outlined a bold vision for helping farmers in Africa improve food security.

The Future Farm Global Learning Center is the flagship of AGCO’s $100 million commitment to agricultural development and mechanization in Africa, said Dr. Rob Smith, AGCO’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. “AGCO is committed to inclusive and sustainable mechanization,” Smith explained. “That means bringing all of agriculture with us.

“Sustainability means designing our products for Africa,” he added. “It means building our products locally, and providing educational training on successful agricultural practices.”

The People’s Tractor

The People’s Tractor

At the heart of the system is the People’s Tractor, a 35-horsepower workhorse (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the classic Massey Ferguson 35, a tractor that helped many Western farmers step into mechanized farming generations ago). A package including a new tractor, a disk harrow, subsoiler, disk plow, planter and tipping trailer is priced at $20,000.

The entire kit was arrayed next to a test plot comparing one hectare of hand-planted maize—a 10-day process—with a mechanically sown crop.  Last year, yields on the machine-planted hectare reached 5.2 tonnes, more than 300 percent higher than the traditionally planted crop. This year, with the crops still maturing, yield figures are not yet available, but the visual difference between the plots is striking.

Smith outlined a vision in which five farmers, each with 5 hectares of land, pooled the resources to buy a People’s Tractor package. According to calculations by economists at England’s Harper Adams University that factor in the high cost of capital in Zambia, improved yields from uniform crops, and other variables, the farmers should be able to pay off the equipment within three years.

“During those three years, they’re able to bring their farm income above the average worker’s salary in Zambia and repay the loan,” Smith emphasized. “It’s a wonderful new business case.”

Holistic Approach

Smith noted that food security goes far beyond mechanization. AGCO is working with lenders in Zambia to make capital available for farmers to buy the People’s Tractor. It also assembled a team of partners to address challenges throughout the production and value chain, including:

–       Local seed breeder Seedco, which provides genetics, including a hybrid orange maize with high levels of Vitamin A.

–       AGCO subsidiary GSI, which commands a significant acreage of the Future Farm with storage options to help reduce post-harvest loss. Post-harvest losses destroy 30 to 40 percent of the region’s farm output. GSI will demonstrate and train farmers on options ranging from steel grain bins with cooling systems to flat storage and solar-powered cold storage.

–       Bayer CropScience, whose trainers will make the case for improved crop management practices, starting with seed treatments that can protect crops’ yield potential and help deliver a 60-to-70-percent yield increase, according to Dr. Klaus Eckstein, CEO and Head of CropScience for Bayer Southern Africa.

–       Experts from Yara will offer fertilizer management workshops.

–       Trelleborg will illustrate key issues surrounding tire management and soil compaction.

Training programs by these and other partners will contribute to programs aimed at farmers of all sizes.

Community Focus

AGCO employs 40 farmworkers at the Future Farm, most of whom live with their families in a newly renovated “compound,” or village, with clusters of houses, gardens and a football pitch just down the path from the community kids’ 4-H Club garden. It’s all part of the company’s effort to be part of Zambia’s farm community.

“We see Zambia as one of the most important countries in terms of stability—political stability as well as economic growth,” said Smith. He described Zambia as “land-linked” rather than land-locked, focusing on opportunities to develop regional export markets with its neighbors across eight international borders.

Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Hon. Given Lubinda, described his government’s agriculture-oriented, business-friendly stance. In a nation where 85 percent of the population works in agriculture, he emphasized the importance of helping smallholder farmers succeed.

“The [Patriotic Front, the country’s ruling party] government believes that even the smallest producer has a role to play in the growth of the agricultural sector,” Lubinda said. He added that innovation will play a vital role in attracting young people to farming, a key farm policy objective.

IFAJ Exposure-4-Development

Zambia’s agricultural community is graced with outstanding opportunities, including a peaceful political atmosphere, 40 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s water and almost limitless land resources. However, 68 percent of the country’s population – including 78 percent of the rural community — lives below the poverty line and most farmers are operating at the subsistence level.

In short, there’s plenty of opportunity, as well as plenty of challenges.

To explore those opportunities and challenges, 14 agricultural journalists from around the world attended the Future Farm grand opening as part of the fourth annual International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Exposure-4-Development media tour. AGCO was the sponsor of the 2015 Exposure-4-Development tour, which was organized by Agriterra and the Zambian National Farmers Union.

Meetings with Minister Givens, the leadership team of the Zambian National Farmers Union, the Finnish ambassador to Zambia, and the national coordinator of the Cotton Association of Zambia filled the group’s days in Lusaka. Heading out from the capital, the Exposure-4-Development team visited a wide range of farms, from a 30,000-ha crop and livestock operation to the nation’s largest beef and dairy producer, a solo Brahmin beef cattle breeder, a sugar producer contracting with more than 100 smallholders, and smaller producers of dairy, chickens and crops.

Leaders of a milk cooperative detailed their success in creating markets for small dairy farmers in the Mazabuka area. The nation’s artificial insemination team shared its cattle herd improvement program, and an innovative vegetable processor outlined his business plan, which weaves together a vision of profitability and creating markets for smallholder farmers.

            Participants in the 2015 Exposure-4-Development tour included:

            Lisbeth Karlsson, Vaxa Sveridge, Sweden

            Liisa Yli-Ketola, Maaseudun Tulevaisuus, Finland

            Shannon van Raes, Manitoba Cooperator, Canada

            Karin Ch. Taferner, Landwirt, Austria

            Kristy O’Brien, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia

            Bernd Pawelzik, Eilbote, Germany

            Mike Donovan, Practical Farm Ideas, UK

Markus Rediger, Landwirtschaftlicher Informationsdienst (LID), Switzerland (and President, International Federation of Agricultural Journalists)

            Maggie Van Camp, Country Guide, Canada

            Caroline Winter, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia

            Magnus Stark, Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry,     Sweden

            Steve Werblow, The Furrow, USA

            Josephine Van Gelder, Agriterra/IFAJ

            Kingsley Kasawende, Zambian National Farmers Union

Click here for more information on the AGCO Future Farm. Click here for details on the IFAJ Exposure-4-Development tour.