Evaluation of Draught Animal Power Systems for Maize and Cotton Production at Smallholder-Farmer Level in Masvingo Province.
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An evaluation of smallholder draught animal power systems was conducted in six study areas in Masvingo and Chivi districts of Masvingo province over two seasons 1999-2000 and 2000-2002. The objective was to investigate the effect of renovating animal-drawn ploughs and cultivators on field performance and on maize and cotton yields at smallholder level as well as to assess farmers’ attitudes and constraints in using draught animal power (DAP) and implements. Trials were conducted to test the hypothesis that implements in good condition make better use of DAP than implements in poor condition in terms of field performance, quality of tillage and crop yields. Focus group discussions and a survey of 100 households were conducted to investigate the resource base of smallholder farmers. Farmers were characterised into four wealth categories based on physical capital, as related to draught animal and implement ownership. Fifty-three ploughs and two cultivators owned by different households were tested, before and after renovation, with the participation of the respective households. An evaluation of the trials was conducted 14 months later to assess the benefits of implement renovation trials and the impact of training on attitudes of farmers towards operation, repair and maintenance of implements. Surveys were designed and analysed using SNAP, while implement performance data were analysed by Statistical Analysis System (SAS). Results from the assessment of resource base of households showed that about 30% of households were resource-poor and lacked basic resources such as DAP, access to implements, adequate arable and grazing land and labour. All farmers depended on cropping for food and income while livestock contributed more to better-resourced farmers. Ninety-seven percent of smallholder farmers owned a plough, with the better-resourced owning cultivators and harrows. However, 60% of ploughs and cultivators were poorly maintained. Poorer farmers generally owned older implements in worse condition than better-resourced farmers. The mean age of ploughs and cultivators was 19 years and 15 years, respectively. Up to 70% of the farmers lacked knowledge in correct setting of implements and did not have good skills in the correct use and maintenance of implements. The mean cost of renovating a poorly maintained implement was 40% and 10% of the cost of a new plough and cultivator, respectively. The old age of implements, removal of plough parts, poor access to spares and repair services, high cost of spares and lack of skills in correct use and maintenance were attributable to the poor condition of implements. Implement performance trials were conducted on paired plots each measuring 100 m by 8 m per test site. The farmer’s plough or cultivator was tested in its usual state and settings in one plot. The other plot was ploughed after renovating the implement and using depth and width adjustments which suited different animal pulling capabilities and prevailing field conditions. After plough renovation, draught increased significantly (P<0.0001) by 24%, while specific draught decreased by about 15% due to improved implement penetration. Renovation did not affect work rate and field efficiency of ploughs but their weeding efficiency increased significantly (P<0.0001) by 21%. Significant differences were observed in moisture content and shear strength (P<0.05) with no significant difference in bulk density (P>0.05) at different soil depths after plough renovation. Draught potentials of all animal teams remained within pulling capacities after plough renovation. Draught and speed of cultivators increased by 9% and 17%, respectively. Weeding efficiency was significantly higher (P<0.0001) after renovating cultivators. Water-logging reduced yields by 10% in the first season. In the second season, yield increased by 24 and 12% in maize and cotton respectively, but with no significant difference (P>0.05) after implement renovation. Economic analysis results indicated that the average outlay on implement renovation would be recovered through yield gain. Renovation of implements resulted in better implement control and handling, improved quality of tillage, a reduction in weeds and improved yields. Shortage of DAP, lack of good knowledge and skills for operation, repair and maintenance of implements, poor access to spares, high cost of spares and limitations in training and extension were some of the constraints to increasing productivity. The study demonstrated the value of implement renovation, correct operation and setting in achieving better return from the use of DAP for cropping. Improving the use of DAP requires training of farmers as well as having reliable and appropriate input supply mechanisms for affordable implements and spares. There is need to improve linkages between farmers, researchers, extension agencies and manufactures so as to develop solutions that enhance the use of DAP by smallholder farmers.