by Tichaona Chifamba
HARARE, July 2 (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwean farmers and students are benefiting from the China-Aid Agricultural Technology Demonstration Center (CATDC), 27 km north-west of Harare, where they are getting knowledge on how to improve their yields.
CATDC is nestled on a 109-hectare piece of land to the south of Gwebi College and composed of an agricultural production and training base where it merges research, production, education work and a community living together.
Employing 70 people, its functions include experimental studies, technical training and promotion of sustainable development.
The center carries out research and studies on maize, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, vegetables and other crops and seeks to attract Chinese agricultural enterprises to invest in Zimbabwe.
Since 2011, more than 10 experts on agricultural machinery, farming, horticulture and agricultural economy have cooperated with local agriculture extension services and Gwebi College to improve production.
About 450 students have been trained at the center so far, with more than 4,000 local and foreign visitors also benefiting.
The center earlier this week showcased Chinese agricultural technology at a field day attended by farmer organizations, army and prisons officers and bank officials.
Guests witnessed center pivots, disc harrows, tractors and seed drills at work as personnel from Debont Corp, the Chinese agricultural company running the demonstration center, took to the fields with their equipment which has been modified to suit local conditions.
Debont is a system integrator specializing in modern agricultural production processes, including providing integrated solutions in agricultural engineering, supplying agricultural equipment, contracting of agricultural projects, and operating agricultural projects.
Minister of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development Joseph Made applauded the company for ensuring that the equipment suited local conditions, after having raised concerns about their effectiveness and quality in the past.
"Machinery and equipment have been modified to suit our conditions. China's conditions are different from ours in terms of soils. We have dry conditions here and their weather is humid and their soils are less firm. So they have modified the equipment according to our standards and conditions," he said.
The company is running specials on some of its products, with a 120 horsepower tractor selling for 39,000 U.S. dollars until Nov. 1 instead of 58,000 dollars.
Bank facilities are available in some cases with beneficiaries paying a deposit of 30 percent and then settle the balance in 12 to 24 months.
Made also appealed to the Chinese government to provide a credit line to the farmers and suggested that the loans would be repayable when the farmers sold their produce.
The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service requires about 52 center pivots for its farms, according to Commissioner-General Paradzai Zimondi.
Made said the Cabinet had made a decision for state enterprises with land to utilize it for their own purposes while selling excess produce to settle loans.
Deputy general manager of Debont's Overseas Department Wang Xinwei said the center had demonstrated that with the necessary technology, farmers could raise their yields phenomenally.
"The data of our agricultural demonstration shows that the center has achieved high yields in maize, wheat, and potatoes, soy beans which are at least 50 to 200 percent more compared with the local production level," she said.
She said the center was producing more than 10 tonnes of maize, 30 tonnes of potatoes and between seven and 10 tonnes of wheat per hectare as production increased.
"In China we can get up to 40 tonnes of potatoes per hectare, so we have to continue learning about the soil conditions here," she said.
Zimbabwe needs about 1.4 million tonnes of maize a year for consumption but yields have often been curtailed by low mechanization and unfavorable weather which usually calls for irrigation development.
Wang said the smaller farmers who could not afford the big tractors could benefit from the small hand-drawn ones which cost less than 2,000 dollars.
Debont this year signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the government to set up eight satellite agricultural demonstration centres and experimental farms across the country in the next ten years.
The centers will be used to share farming expertise and provide training to locals.
Debont will also provide scholarships to talented students at these centers.
Made said the future of the farming sector lay in the development of mechanization and irrigation, especially in the face of climate change.
"Faced with the demand for more food and other agricultural commodities by an increasing population, there is no choice for us but to improve our production systems through mechanization and irrigation development," he said.
More than 276,000 Zimbabweans have been given about 12 million hectares, representing about 31 percent of prime agricultural land previously owned by the white minority farmers.
However, the reforms did not address the problem of underutilization of land as the majority of the new farmers do not have the necessary farming skills.