The Kenyan government has bought four bulldozers worth Sh176 million to be rented out to farmers in four major agricultural zones, in a bid to strengthen agricultural mechanisation services as farmers clear more traditionally bushy areas to pave way for large scale farming.
The move comes at a time when farmers have been decrying the prohibitive cost of hiring machinery from private firms, who charge a minimum Sh30,000 per hour for a bulldozer.
The government's bulldozers, which will be located in Rift Valley, Central, Eastern and Western Provinces, will be available to any farmer who needs them for a hire rate of Sh3500 per hour.
The bulldozers, imported from Russia, can clear an acre of bushy land within half an hour - a job that would require about 10 labourers working seven hours a day to complete in a week, each earning Sh250 daily, which is the average pay for casual labourers in the country.
The bulldozers, which the ministry has bought as a pilot project, will also be used to dig dams, as the government scales up the provision of water sources for irrigation farming, which is seen as critical to further agricultural development.
“We have done surveys in the field, we have talked to farmers who are now reaping from markets that have opened up for them. The problem now is not lack of markets, but lack of enough produce to sustain market demand. What, however, has come up as a problem is farmers trying to expand farming acreage, but taking long since they are using modest equipments,” said Duncan Kimeli, an agricultural secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Recently, a new breed of agripreneurs emerging, buoyed by good returns from their land, who have been shifting from rudimentary farming methods to renting and buying sophisticated farming inputs in a bid to further boost their incomes. This has spawned a new wave of shops leasing or selling specialised farm equipments and recording impressive returns, across tractor engines, water pumps, ploughs, irrigation systems, and machine attachments to task-specialised equipment.
However, the levels of the leasing rates asked by the private machinery companies has continued to lock out the majority of smallholders in expanding arable land. The Ministry of Agriculture is therefore optimistic that the latest model will attract considerable uptake.
However, it also threatens to displace thousands of casual labourers who eke a daily living from such manual jobs. A casual labourer clearing one acre of bushy land for six days in a week would currently earn around Sh1600. But industry players say the move will bring new work for labourers.
“We are talking about food production where the need has arisen, and if we can do it faster, then by all means let's do it. Casual labourers are only being displaced in a very small portion of farming. They can still assist in planting, harvesting and so on. They dont lose entirely,” said Muthaka Ndetei from Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development of Egerton University.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter