| Animal traction |
|8. Economic and technical assistance|
Farm planning assistance, equipment options, and financial help are basic elements of many animal traction programs. The programs are designed so farmers can choose a combination of animals and equipment that will meet their individual needs. The combination is called a technical package. It includes animals and materials, as well as the advice, information, and instruction of extension agents.
Increasingly, the approach of extension services is to offer a number of standard technical packages which allow agents to accommodate individual needs and preferences and at the same time supply growing numbers of farmers with basic organized support.
Farmers thinking about using animal traction probably have considered its advantages already. Of equal importance is an understanding of how animal traction will affect the overall farm operation. This is where an animal traction instructor can be especially helpful.
Instructors should visit the fields which the farmer intends to plant during the forthcoming season, and the fields left fallow. Only after understanding the existing pattern of land and labor use, and how the farmer calculates yearly needs, can an advisor begin to see where and if animal traction can be used to advantage.
Understanding how and why a farmer uses traditional cropping methods takes both time and great effort. This effort is required in order to match plans and needs; quick judgments concerning the use of animal traction easily can lead to failure.
After studying each situation, an instructor can offer advice concerning the purchase of equipment, how much must be produced to cover the cost of expanded operations, whether donkeys would be more efficient than bulls, and how the use of animals would affect the distribution of labor. It is extremely important, for example, to point out that animal traction increases the amount of manual labor needed for land preparation (clearing), planting, and harvesting, and decreases the amount needed for primary tillage and weeding. Other points concerning labor include:
• Traditional fields can be plowed before laborers hoe them into the mounds or ridges where crops will be planted. The labor caved in this operation can be used to plant additional lands plowed with the animals.
• In mid-season, laborers might be busy weeding traditional fields and unable to help weed fields plowed by animal traction. These fields, therefore, could be arranged so the farmer and the draft team can weed them alone. If crops are grown in regularly spaced rows, the animals will be able to walk between them and pull a weeding device. This concept can be demonstrated by laying a weeding yoke across four lines or ridges representing a planted field. The farmers can then see where the animals will walk and where the weeding plow goes. The line tracer, used to mark the rows before seeding, can also be demonstrated.
• Additional lands planted would not exceed the maximum number of hectares the family labor force could effectively harvest.
A number of factors must be considered when choosing equipment: type of crop, area cropped, climate and soil conditions, availability and type of animal power, potential of local artisans to repair and manufacture parts. Equipment must be durable, affordable, and easy to transport, use and maintain.
Many farmers have recognized the economy and versatility of the multi-purpose breakdown toolframe and purchase it as the core of an equipment package which includes a number of standard attachments. Frame-based equipment is popular because it is easy to move and can be fitted with an assortment of relatively inexpensive blades that achieve various tillage objectives.
For many African farmers, the concept of a toolframe is not new. A handhoe which can be fitted with a mounding blade, a ridging blade, and a weeding blade is especially designed for options. In programs where toolframes are used or available, agents can help farmers understand the versatility of animaldrawn equipment by showing them toolframe options-moldboard plows, ridgers, weeders, cultivators, and peanut lifters.
A one-piece, one-purpose tool appears less complicated and less expensive to beginning farmers, but can cause them trouble later. A nonadaptable moldboard plow lets them turn many hectares of land, but unless they hire extra laborers to ridge and/or weed it, the crops suffer and the yield is poor. They may solve the problem later, by purchasing a ridging plow or a cultivator, or they may decide that animal traction is too expensive and simply return to traditional methods.
Ultimately, it is less expansive to purchase a multipurpose toolframe with attachments than to buy a set of single-purpose tools, unless those specialty tools are locally made and are cheaper than an imported toolframe. Although toolframes look complicated, attachments are easily changed.
Many of the tools used by farmers can be manufactured locally. Yokes, harnesses, harrows, line tracers, plowshares, ridger points, and many toolframe parts can be made by village artisans who are given a model, prototype, or picture to work from. The equipment is often less expensive than imported goods, and it is more readily supplied to farmers.
In some programs, instructors encourage village blacksmiths, carpenters and leathermakers to attend clinics or workshops where they can learn additional skills and techniques. Credit to purchase new tools or materials may be extended to those who attend.
Quality control and tool standardization should be major objectives of training programs, so that artisans can produce replacement parts for local or imported equipment. Individuals, equipment centers, or farmer associations can purchase, stock, or sell them as needed.
Skilled artisans also can supply custom-made equipment such as yokes, harness, sweeps, and sleds. Some artisans work at regional or national manufacturing centers, where wagons, toolframes, and other types of equipment are produced on a large scale.
Without financial help, many traditional farmers would not be able or willing to buy animals and animal-drawn equipment. Those with few or no cash reserves could not risk precious food or animal stores for the potential benefits of new methods. Those who could afford the materials might consider it too great a risk if the program were new and the quality of related technical assistance unproven. As a result, many programs offer farmers credit or loans.
Two approaches have been used to extend credit to farmers; either the animal traction instructor and/ or local extension agent handles applications, contracts, equipment distribution, and payments, or the agricultural supervisor or a special credit supervisor handles these functions. Administrators increasingly favor the second approach because instructional agents feel that their image and effectiveness as teachers is hampered when they are forced to collect loan payments.
Whatever the arrangement, the ability and willingness to repay a loan is based on the ability and willingness of extension services to deliver proper tools, skills, and support. From the farmer's viewpoint, the continued presence, interest and guidance of a qualified field instructor is a prerequisite for repayment of the loan; without this support, a return to traditional methods is the only logical and economical choice.
The experience gained in past projects has led to the development of credit systems based on low-interest, medium-term loans. The project may be financed through grants or national banks, or it may operate with its own earnings.
In some credit systems, the farmer pays 5-10 percent simple interest on a 2-5 year loan. The loan usually is reimbursed in a series of equal or increasing annual payments which may begin after a one-year grace period. Rebates may be offered to farmers who make full, early repayment. Because cash down payments are thought to discourage new farmers, most projects accept the purchase of animals, yoke and chain, or harness equipment as ample sign of commitment.
As part of the loan agreement, farmers may be required to do some or all of the following:
• Produce a minimum of one or two hectares of a government marketed cash crop and concur with extension-recommended cropping procedures, including use of hybrid seed, fertilizer, pesticides, planting and weeding procedures.
• Comply with an animal health care plan including construction of shelter, designation of compost area, prepayment of one-year vaccination and deworming treatments, growing and storing forage for dry season feeding, and obtaining animal insurance or maintaining substitute animals.
• Participate in an extension organized clinic on equipment assembly, adjustment, repair, and maintenance.
• Agree to pay penalty on overdue payments, or in case of foreclosures and repossession, to pay outstanding debt and/or depreciation costs.
• Become a member of a group or association of animal traction farmers which stocks supplies, organizes instruction, and maintains a common fund. In some cases, the group is chartered and lends money to members who are unable to make annual payments.
(Examples of equipment title and payment records are found in Appendix E.)
In some areas animals may be available only through project-run holding stations or permanent ranches. Animals are bred, castrated, raised, and trained by project personnel, and then sold to farmers. Or animals may simply be imported, medically screened, and then sold, either by themselves or as part of a larger animal/equipment technical package. Farmers requesting loans for the purchase of animals may have to meet the following preconditions:
• Provide an animal care plan (see above).
• Purchase a "Health Card". This is a prepaid form or ticket which lists both scheduled and actual treatments or checks performed by veterinary personnel. The card is purchased each year; it may be a standard feature of an animal insurance policy.
• Enroll in an animal insurance policy program. An increasingly popular idea with programmers and farmers alike, the policy covers credit bought animals lost to disease or accident. Premiums are paid annually.
• Become a member of an animal clinic. In some programs, farmer associations purchase and stock veterinary supplies to ensure against national shortages; animals are then grouped and treated by trained veterinary personnel. Vaccination days, or organizational meetings of the association, may be used as forums where preventive medicine, disease control, or animal nutrition are discussed.
The credit officers or supervisors cooperating with animal traction personnel may perform these duties:
• Identify credit candidates and fill out application forms. The application includes information on the size and status of the farmer's operation and his or her ability to meet preconditions of the loan.
• Write the contract. The farmer, credit officer (or extension agent acting as credit officer) and national project organization each receive a copy. The animal traction agent may serve as witness to signing of the contract.
• Visit farms and ensure that preconditions of the loan are met and maintained through the life of the contract; that is, that animal shelter, vaccination schedule, equipment care, and the clinic and meeting attendance requirements are met.
• Collect annual payments on loan and insurance premiums; write yearly report/summary.
• Handle all defaults, foreclosures, repossessions, deferrals, rebates, and late payments.
In addition, the officers may order and deliver equipment; help organize training clinics for farmers, artisans, agricultural and veterinary personnel; and establish credit for animal traction farmer associations. Associations with common funds may be awarded credit to buy material stocks; in some cases the size of the common fund may determine the amount or terms of individual credit extended to members. Credit officers may report or review the effectiveness of agents or agencies supporting borrowers.
When Credit Is Not Available
Animal traction can be economically feasible even when credit is not available. For example, some farmers may be able to use their equipment to do contract work. A person who owns just a moldboard plow or a ridgeplow can use it to maintain rather than expand present operations, and then rent out services to other farmers. A farmer who can purchase a locallymade wagon can begin to pay for other equipment by selling transportation. Such possibilities can and should be pointed out to people with limited interest in animal traction and to those who do not qualify for a credit package, but who can afford a wagon or a simple plow.