Nelly Bassily | April 14, 2008
The sight of a farmer preparing a field with a hand hoe is common in Uganda’s rural communities. Most of the country’s small-scale farmers prepare their land for planting this way. It’s a long and arduous process – but few can afford to purchase tractors to make the work faster.
Now, the Ugandan government believes it has found a good alternative. On a recent trip to Thailand, a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture noticed farmers using two-wheeled tractors. The tractors are called “walking tractors” because farmers walk behind and push them.
Walking tractors cost much less than conventional tractors. They are also less expensive to operate because they use less diesel. The government has purchased 50 of the tractors and plans to make them available to farmers’ groups through a loan program.
The distribution of the walking tractors will be carried out through the National Agricultural Advisory Services, or NAADS, which operates government extension services. Alice Nakagwa is an information officer for NAADS. She said the introduction of walking tractors is part of the government’s effort to encourage mechanization in agriculture.
Ms. Nakagwa said that walking tractors come with various attachments, so they can serve many functions. Harrowing, or breaking up land in preparation for planting, could be done at a cost of 25,000 Ugandan shillings (about 15 American dollars or 10 Euros) per acre for equipment and labour. This is about one third of the equipment and labour cost of harrowing land with a conventional tractor, and even less than using an ox-plough.
The walking tractor can also be used to create the ridges needed for root vegetables such as Irish potatoes. Other attachments can be used for weeding and irrigation. The tractor’s diesel engine can also be used for shelling maize and threshing rice.
Walking tractors are now manufactured and sold in Uganda through the Marubeni Corporation. The cost is still prohibitive for individual small-scale farmers at 4.5 million Ugandan shillings (approximately 2,700 American dollars, or 1,700 Euros). NAADS expects them to be purchased and used by sub-county farmer forums, which have about 200 farmers each.