In sub-Saharan Africa, most smallholder farmers cannot afford to buy machines and tractors to work their land efficiently. As a result, humans provide 65% of the power required for land preparation. In Zambia, AGCO (manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment) has launched a business concept to make a change: the Farm in a Box initiative for Africa.
According to AGCO, Farm in a Box is an innovative solution for small-scale farmers to gain access to mechanisation tools they need to achieve profitable businesses. It offers machinery on an attractive for-hire base, enabling them to boost their crop production processes and output.
In the box: a tractor and implements
The ‘box’ in Farm in a Box can be taken literal, as it is a package of essential farm equipment, that is to be utilised in (often) remote parts of Sub-Sahara Africa. The box – a modified shipping container – includes a 45-80hp tractor and implements such as a ripper, disc harrow, trailer and planter. To add to the hardware, Farm in a Box offers crucial support mechanisms such as parts, workshop tools, training and expertise to ensure sustainable and productive machinery operations. The shipping container ‘box’ can be used as an office or workshop.
Farm in a Box is very much an entrepreneurial platform, offering ‘for-hire’ mechanization services to small-holder farmers that do not need to invest in capital assets. It operates on a franchise model, with franchisees appointed and trained by AGCO and its local distribution partners. Typical franchise holders would be those with relatively well-established businesses successfully serving the agricultural community within their sphere. This franchise model helps build the capacity of small-scale enterprises and provides business opportunities for entrepreneurs, contractors and the many specialty agricultural supply stores – known as agro-dealers – present throughout Africa’s rural areas.
Localised farm support center
In fact, Farm in a Box is localised farm support center, that may help solve smallholders’ farmers’ problems and helps deliver mechanization services to rural communities. Research shows that demand for machinery is high in these remote areas but barriers such as affordability, availability, maintenance/repair services and inadequate farmer skills and training are hindering the uptake of mechanization.
How does AGCO intend to roll out Farm in a Box in Africa? Club Africa asked Shlobi Maluleke at AGCO’s offices in Gauteng, South Africa. “The AGCO Future Farm in Zambia will operate as an operations centre which will support all Farm in a Box operators as it is rolled out. Support will initially come in the form of email or telephone contact, soon followed by the Farm in a Box App which will be accessible to the owners and/or operators. Secondly, training will be provided from the AGCO Future Farm in Zambia to ensure all owners and operators are fully trained. Lastly, key to the FIAB are the telemetry-based systems so all tractors will be supplied with this technology. Basically, this system provides the ability of the FIAB machinery to be tracked and monitored at all times.”
Did you already close deals with franchisers that will operate the FIABs?
“The focus is on Zambia. Since the official launch, we have received an overwhelming response and interest from the locals. All Farm in a Box units will be franchised to the in-country Distribution Partners in Zambia to ensure quality levels. They will have to undergo an intense training program to qualify. Upon certification they will become AGCO approved FIAB dealers who qualify for the telemetry-based support services and the many additional benefits due for release in 2019.”
Thousands of kilometres north, AGCO’s CEO Martin Richenhagen, addressed the press at the Farm in a Box launch occasion at Germany’s International Green Week. His take on mechanisation at smallholder farms in Africa: “There is an urgent need to empower the millions of smallholder farmers in Africa to ensure food security. Tailored, inclusive and integrated approaches to agricultural mechanization can increase the welfare of farm households and create opportunities for economic growth in rural areas.”