A tractor, driven by one person, ploughs 10 acres per day. But if a farmer employed people using hoes to plough the same size of land, he will need at least 200 tough men to plough the same area in one day, working from 6:00am to 7:00pm.
Certainly, that amount of human labour is no longer available. A single person needs close to a month of hard work to plough an acre. For 10 acres, the owner of a 2WD tractor charges sh1m to open the land.
However, if it is yours, it will consume less than 100 litres of fuel, which is about sh600,000. However, if you employ people, you will pay each of them sh10,000 per day, which adds up to around sh2m. Again, when it comes to planting, you will need nearly the same number of people to do the planting in one day so that all the crops grow uniformly.
Also, people have many weaknesses that machines do not have. For example, they get annoyed, they can steal farm equipment and produce, problems a farmer can prevent by using tractors.
In Uganda, most farmers are now complaining about lack of farm labour. According to Marcel Spriijt, who runs Duijndam Machines in the Netherlands, it is because of the absence of this labour that the Dutch invested in tractors and other equipment.
While it is initially expensive, using a tractor in the long run is a lot cheaper for commercial farmers.
“It saves you the challenges that come with handling people. As long as the tractor is serviced, it will do your work,” Spriijt says.
“There are machines that do the ridging before planting, the planting, weeding and harvesting. The advantage of this is that everything is done systematically, which ensures better yields. It is the reason a farmer is advised to acquire the whole set of equipment,” explains Spruijt.
In Uganda, most of the farmers buy the main engine, a plough and a trailer. This, according to experts, is not proper. But as seen from the experience in the Netherlands, to maximise the productivity of the tractors, one needs to have all the components like the planters, weeders, the sprayers and the harvesters.
A 2WD tractor costs around sh80m; a medium-size tractor goes to around sh140m, while a heavy duty tractor may cost over sh280m.
However, this is a long-term investment that can be recovered over time, both from your farm and from hiring it out.
For example, if you are hiring it out to other farmers, and it works on say five acres per day, at sh100,000 per acre, that is sh500,000 coming in. If you deduct the operational expenses, you can have sh300,000 as profit every day or sh9m per month.
“Of course, the most active months are February and March and then August and September. But overall, you can recover that money in less than two years,” observes James Olobo, who runs a tractor on his farm.
In the Netherlands, farmers easily acquire tractors because of the organised co-operative system, a model that could be adopted by Ugandan farmers.
Additionally, there are second-hand tractors in Europe that can be easily imported by Ugandans. Some medium 4WD second-hand tractors cost as low as 8,000 Euros (about sh27m).
In the late 1980s, the Government reinstated the tractor schemes. Medium-size tractors were imported, alongside heavy-duty tractors like the Messy Ferguson.
The tractors were then spread across the country. However, in most of the central region, the tractors were used to fetch sand, instead of doing agriculture work. This should not be the case.
The challenge is that there are no formal training centres for tractor mechanics and drivers in Uganda. And yet, tractors are durable. In fact, they are the most durable farm machinery.
“If well-serviced, a tractor can last as many as 100 years,” says Amooti Isingoma Kakiiza, a commercial in Kabarole, who uses tractors on his farm.