On the move: transporting agricultural goods in Zimbabwe

As production and marketing has increased from the new resettlement farms, the demand for transport has grown. The earlier blog series highlighted the importance of transport operators as part of the expanding ‘hidden middle’. Transporters facilitate value chains of all sorts, transporting people and goods both locally and further afield.

Since land reform exchange networks are more localised, with transport from field to sales points being often only a few kilometres. This links to the growth of small towns as sites for marketing. For this reason the demand for small motorised vehicles is high. This sort of transport can move goods in relatively small quantities and on a regular basis. Such transporters in turn link to bulk transporters who move agricultural goods over longer distances to larger markets, auction floors or retail outlets.

This blog focuses on the small-scale transport moving from person powered wheel barrows or small ‘chingoro’ type hand-drawn carts to animal drawn scotch carts to adapted motorbikes with trailers to tractors to minibuses/kombis to the now ubiquitous Chinese-made 2 tonne trucks.  Different sizes, with different costs respond to different needs and in all our sites a network of transporters are available for hire, able to move anything and anyone nearly anywhere in the area.

This infrastructure, which has grown significantly over recent years, is essential for timely and efficient marketing, as well as the transport of inputs for agriculture. With the growth of horticulture, accelerated by the investment in small-scale irrigation technology, there are huge volumes of perishable vegetables and fruits that need to get to markets on time, making efficient transport essential.

Such transport also allows people to move, between farms and small towns for purchasing goods and accessing services. Access to motorised transport in particular has reduced the need to walk long distances with heavy loads (a burden usually imposed on women) and has improved connectivity, with all its benefits in terms of flows of knowledge, finance and goods.

Innovations in transport technologies have been occurring as the cases show. People have adapted traditional transport in new ways, adding elements to scotch carts for example or connecting trailers to motorbikes. Tractors, purchased initially for tillage and cultivation tasks, are also used to facilitate transport of goods, people and other machines. As we saw in the last blog, processing machines like threshers can be moved around to allow a responsive service. Transport is often a lucrative source of funds for owners of tractors trying to get returns on their investments, being year-round often better than tillage services focused on a few weeks. As with our other explorations of small-scale machinery the network of repair shops and garages, now in rural areas and small towns, means that vehicles can be quickly repaired and adapted. Such workshops also generate employment across our sites.

Agricultural transport is not without challenges, however. The parlous state of the road network, especially secondary roads in rural areas means that accessibility is challenging, especially following the rains (although some communities are investing in upgrading their roads themselves in the absence of the state). This means that combining forms of transport is essential. A cart for one stage, a motorbike the next, a tractor if the roads are very poor, and then a kombi or small truck when the roads are more passable. Coordinating across different transporters is therefore essential when getting crops to market, especially if they are perishable. Motorised transport presents challenges too when fuel is short or can only be purchased on the black market in foreign currency,. This pushes prices up and the margins for transporters get squeezed.  

Despite these challenges, we have seen a rapid expansion of transport services across our sites, responding to the demand from resettlement farmers. A whole array of transport types are seen with scales and power sources responding to different contexts. As this short blog series has shown, across production, processing and transport, the small-scale mechanisation of farming is increasing efficiency, reducing drudgery, generating employment and adding value. This process is supported by local level innovation and growing design and manufacturing capacity, which will be the focus of the next blog.


The following sections offer some very brief cases and photos of transportation of different types, offering insights into both opportunities and challenges.

Carts. I am Josphat from Chikombedzi. I own donkeys and a cart and  help my neighbours bring crops to the township. As long as I can feed my donkeys and there is plenty of grass, they don’t need expensive fuel that costs as much as R30 per litre, and is scarce. I charge depending on the distance, but it’s always cheaper than hiring a tractor and I can get to any farm at any time of year.

I am Shadreck Mazuru of Malton farm near Chatsworth. I produce large quantities of potatoes and cabbages. I sell in Mpandawanda and Chatsworth, as well as surrounding farms. My major problem is transport. I use my scotch cart to ferry my produce to a nearby road, where I meet my clients. My plot is not well accessible by cars due to bad roads caused by the cyclone.

Motorbike transporters.

I work with contract farmers producing poultry in Matobo. I move around with my bike with a crate, allowing me to pick up chickens ready for sale. I take them to a central point where crates are loaded onto a lorry and taken to the slaughter hub in Bulawayo.

I am Hassan and used to be a farmworker in South Africa. I managed to raise enough money to buy a motorbike and then fixed a two wheeled cart to the back with the help of a local welder. I started ferrying goods and people around the Triangle area. Most of my clients are horticultural farmers and I work in a radius of 50km from here. All payments are in US dollars and for local trips around here I can make up to USD18 a day.

Tractor. I am Toendepi Chidaguru from Chikombiezi. I am here to serve farmers transporting their products to the bakosi market, which is held every Thursday. Fuel consumption of my tractor is 3 litres per 10 km distance. The project is good for me because I am hired; even if the business is poor at the end of the day I am paid. The most profitable business is when farmers are tilling their land I can be hired by more than five farmers a day charging R1200 per hectare.


A pick-up transporting tobacco to curing sheds nearby.

The Bvumavaranda Transport Company serves the long trip from Chiredzi to Limpopo. The company travels a rough route that is neglected by several service providers due to low road rehabilitation. This company is playing a big role in transporting agricultural products.

My name is Mr Mutasa from Triangle. I am 67 years old and retired from being a clerk in government service. Making use of money from sales of cattle, horticulture and my retirement package I bought a kombi and a small truck. The kombi was bought in 2016 and then the truck in 2019. I get hired to ferry people and goods to church gatherings, weddings and regular transport to markets. I employ one driver, but otherwise I drive. I charge US$2 per kilometre. I travel as far as Masvingo or Gweru sometimes. I have invested in my rural home and now have two houses in town for rental thanks to this business.

Two-tonne truck

Two-tonne trucks are everywhere these days. This picture is from Mvurwi and is being used to transport cattle to an abbatoir. The transporter will make arrangements with livestock owners and collect on a specified day.

Thanks are due to the team in Chikombedzi, Triangle, Masvingo, Gutu, Mvurwi and Matobo and to Felix Murimbarimba for coordinating the work and compiling the huge amount of information and many photos taken by the team, just a few of which are included here.

This blog was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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