EXPERTS: Mechanized farming enhances productivity

Stephen Otieno, a rice farmer in Kanyariro village, Rachuonyo North Sub-county demonstrates how to use a hand held tractor used in cultivation on May 7, 2021. The ministry of East African Community and Regional Development that implements the Kimira Oluch Smallholder Farmer Improvement Project (Kosfip) is encouraging farmers to engage in farm mechanisation for increased food production. PHOTO/George Omondi, The Scholar Media Africa.

Farm mechanisation is on the rise in the country, replacing the use of animal and human labour in agricultural production.

This has more advantages than disadvantages.
Most farmers practicing large scale production use tractor drawn machines for land preparation, planting, weeding, fertiliser application, harvesting among other activities.

This geared towards increased yields and more income.
But despite the benefits of using tractors and other machines in cultivation, there are those, especially small scale farmers who still rely on manual and animal labour to do farm chores.
Consequently, they get lower yields compared to their counterparts who use electric or petroleum powered farm equipment under the same size of land. 
To overcome this, the Ministry of East African Community and the Regional Development is implementing a programme in Homa Bay County where small scale farmers are supported to get machines for farm production.

This will encourage mechanisation and support food production.
At least 100 farmers under Kimira Oluch Smallholder Farmer Improvement Project (Kosfip), are set to reap from a Sh 6 billion irrigation scheme in Rachuonyo North and Rangwe Sub counties.

The project is being implemented by the ministry and beneficiaries have been selected as model farmers to benefit from the program and replicate its impact in other areas. 
Most of the beneficiaries are rice growers in Rachuonyo North.

They have started harvesting crops and comparing yields from previous harvests when they used human and animal labour.
Ms Jenipher Akinyi from Kanyariro village in Kogweno Kowuor Location is among those who have started enjoying the fruits of using machines.
She recently harvested rice from her field which she hopes to sell and make a lot of profit.
She harvested the crops on June 5 using a hand held reaper and got 24 bags of rice from a three quarter acre piece of of land.
In a past harvest four months ago, the farmer got eight bags of rice from the same land.
Then, she had not used any machine in crop production.
“I used a hoe to cultivate the land and planted rice using bare hands. All other farm practices were also done manually,” Ms Akinyi said.
In comparison, she realised that use of machines enhances better yields.
The farmer has been selected by Kosfip to encourage others to embrace farm mechanization.
“Use of machines provides relief to farmers. It provides efficiency in performing farming chores faster with an increase in soil productivity and rising income,” Ms Akinyi said. 
Kosfip Senior Agronomist Amos Amenya said the intended purpose of the multibillion project has not been realised yet.

This is so because of the difficulties farmers are having in land preparation and other field operations.
“A lot of farmers in the scheme have been saying they are having difficulties in cultivating heavy soil using bare hands,” Amenya said.

“Many of them still rely on animal and human labour. We are trying to encourage them to switch to machines and make good use of the scheme.”
When the implementation of the project started in 2007, it was expected that it would be Nyanza’s food basket.
Kosfip covers an area of 3658 acres (1474 hectares) of irrigatable land that has a constant supply of water every month.
But a lot of people in Homa Bay County still rely on food supplied from Kisii and Kericho counties yet Kofip has the ability to supply the same food.
Mr Amenya said not all farmers within the covered area where 181 kilometers of canals have passed are using the water to irrigate their crops.
Project implementers are partnering with other agricultural institutions to supply small hand held machines.

This will encourage farmers to use modern tools to grow crops.
In rice farming where the programme is majorly being implemented, primary and secondary tillage is done using a hand held tractor and a rotavator.
Farmers then plant the crops from the nursery manually (using hands).
Mr Amenya said farmers have been trained to plant in rows as it will ease use of machines in subsequent farm activities.
“Farmers use a jap machine for fertilizer application and a push weeder to remove weeds at a spacing of 20.

Pesticide and fungicides are also applied using a spaying machine,” he said.
When the crops are mature, farmers use a hand driver reaper to get the crops out of the field.
Other activities like scaring birds away and threshing are however done manually.
The agronomist said most farmers have been trained on how to use machines and are already applying the skills in the field.
“Rice farmers have started getting more yields because they have started practices that were not being done before.

This includes line planting that promotes easy weeding using push weeders and reapers,” he said.
Besides easy farm operations, machines reduce the cost of production as it limits the number of workers who were to be paid to work in a farm.

Besides, it saves time.
Nyabon Enterprises Limited is among organisations that have partnered with Kosfip in supporting farm mechanisation.
The types of machines they give farmers including hand held seed drills, pump set, inter cultivator, thresher, which are easy to use.
The firm’s operations manager Victor Odhiambo said that the machines are easy to use.
“Training on how to use the machines is not as technical as operating tractors.

We help farmers finance the cost of production and we recover the amount after harvesting,” he said adding that they provide 50 per cent financing.
Nyabon Enterprises Limited also promotes value chain in agriculture.

It supports farmers in making other products out of their harvested farm produce.
Farmers have been encouraged to take advantage of the service to make good use of water flowing in the canals.
In Kogweno Kowuor location, farmers are using agriculture to prevent flooding in their homes.
A local river called Okondo was silted and its water could flow to homes.
Those who are yet to find a solution to the problem are moving out.
For farmers like Ms Akinyi who use the hand held tractor, the presence of water in her farm is to her advantage.

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