SUMA JKT the army’s economic wing managing the Kilimo Kwanza tractor supply project took what one may call bold and probably painful measures to the benefit of the smallholder farmers and the nation.
It changed the modality of distributing imported tractors by adopting a two-prong approach.
On the one hand it reduced the price of a tractor by 25 percent. The price which was between 25m/- and 45m/- now stands at 16m/- after the review.
In so doing, the business that was almost at standstill has witnessed a quick sale of 300 units. This is a cue that anybody knowing the nature of Tanzania’s agricultural input market where most of the operators are small scale farmers should have taken.
The other approach is the ambitious countrywide programme the army wing plans to take, of constructing mechanisation centres in all the country’s regions.
Under the programme, SUMA JKT would put in place agricultural mechanisation workshops in those centres and farmers would be able to hire equipment for farming and have the same managed or maintained by the centre’s administration.
The two modalities are aimed at enabling farmers to hire the equipment and carry out agricultural activities at affordable rates and thus boost their incomes.
Under the same programme, they would eventually be able to use their earned incomes to purchase own equipment, according to the project manager Col Felix Samillan.
There is no doubt that this two-pronged approach rests on a much higher logic compared to the pure commercial one adopted previously of assembling tractors in one town centre and waiting for the farmers to come and buy.
It is on this score that we commend SUMA JKT management for this swift shift in business logic, though necessitated by the realities of the Tanzanian market. If implemented well it is set to benefit many of the country’s tillers.
Because of their small incomes and hardly any loan facilities, the right way to empower the smallholder farmers is to open up centres where they can secure the equipment and other inputs, either by hiring or on hire purchase to help them build up the basis upon which they could own those equipments.
Again, the right way to go is to ensure that such services are availed to farmers in a group so that this eventually eases the mode of paying back the lender or service dispenser.
It is our hope that the steps taken by SUMA JKT will be followed by other commercial suppliers of farm inputs to better the sector’s services.
At one time the number of tractors in Tanzania stood at 35,000 units. Then, this country stood high among the young economies prospering on the back of farming. But currently the number stands at a mere 3,000 units.
To push this figure up some force from somewhere is required and this cannot be other than the private sector.
That is why when addressing a continental meeting last week, President Jakaya Kikwete told the delegates that the private sector is needed to make a swift move into agriculture so that tangible results can be registered.