Processing crops in Zimbabwe: adding value through mechanisation

This blog continues our short series on small-scale agricultural mechanisation in Zimbabwe. This week we turn to how mechanisation is changing the capacity to process agricultural produce and so add value locally. Selling to larger scale manufacturers, millers and so on is less and less attractive. Transport costs are high, prices for farmers are often low and payment systems are unreliable. The costs of products in supermarkets are also rising daily, making it much better, many argue, to process locally. This applies to grains of all types as well as commodities such as groundnuts. Mechanical processing also reduces the hard labour of using a pestle and mortar for grinding or manually threshing crops, which is why some processing machinery – such as dehullers- is very popular with women.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in small-scale machines for threshing, grinding, shelling, dehulling, expressing oil and making peanut butter. These may be machines made by larger manufacturers or more bespoke or adapted machines that are manufactured in local workshops and garages across our study areas. This manufacturing activity is generating jobs and providing important services. As people told us, we now don’t have to go to Harare or Bulawayo to get spares or seek out someone to do a repair as mechanics, welders and others are available locally.

The type of machines people favour – as with the production focused machinery discussed in the previous blog – are cheap, easy to repair, small, transportable and modular, in the sense that there are different bits that can be added on and purchased separately. Very often the cheap engines that we saw were so important to small-scale irrigation can be used to drive other machines, while tractor engines can be connected too.

The growth of small-scale manufacturing workshops is an important phenomenon that we will discuss at the end of this series. These are sites for innovation, experimentation and where people can make a living, often with several people employed at each site. Those who offer mobile services for processing itself or for repair for example may link their business to transporters to allow machines to moved around. Many people are involved, some with other jobs, some who are farmers and others who do it full-time. Many are young men without land and with few other options. In the national statistics, they are ‘unemployed’, but they are making a living.  

This growth has been driven by a number of factors. These include the decline in the formal economy and the experience of an unstable, volatile economy that has encouraged investment locally, with systems based on self-reliance. The growth of local manufacture of peanut butter, popcorn or other products reflects the failure of the formal system to supply, but it is also generates important income, especially for women and young people. Demand for new machinery or its hire is most definitely driven by the land reform areas, where production is higher and people have more surplus income to invest, either in the machinery itself or hiring it for their crops.

Mechanising processing is not without challenges though. With the dire state of Zimbabwe’s infrastructure, relying on mains electricity to power anything is foolhardy. Purchasing petrol or diesel for engines is risky too, as shortages often occur and prices rise endlessly. Many are using solar powered machines, but this is not possible for everything. Otherwise machines are adapted to have a manual option. Transport remains a big challenge for many due to high costs and the terrible state of the roads, especially in the rainy season. This means that some farmers do not have access to mobile services or cannot travel to a nearby town to get the services, pushing them to buy machines locally, meaning we see many more machines being installed in rural areas with a highly localised system developing.

There is a huge variety of types of machine, with many adaptations and some interesting innovations, and they are used in multiple ways. The following cases and associated photos give a flavour of this from across our sites.

Grinding mills – for grain meal and stock feeds

Grinding/hammer mills are very common in the Wondedzo area. The mill uses either diesel or electricity. Every household is using the hammer mill to make maize meal, small grain meal, as well as crushing grain for livestock feeds. To grind one bucket of maize, one has to pump out a dollar. The mills are imported from China, Japan, Britain and India.

I am Thamsanqa Moyo  aged 42 from Whitewater Primary school,  ward 17 settled in Silungudzi  village. As a teacher I have to make extra money outside my salary. A grinding mill was a missing  service  within this community. I bought a mill and put it at my home place, so customers could avoid delays of going to the council place. I bought the model at a Chinese shop in Bulawayo. The economics of grinding mills are as follows. I spend US$8 for 5 litres of diesel and can grind 40 buckets each at $1. That gives me a profit of $32. I don’t have hired labour, so I have to be at the mill all weekend and after hours at school. The good thing is I have little or no competitors at all. From my savings from profits in 2021/22 l have started to build a general  dealer and bottle store at the business centre. By the time l finish, l would have set my eyes on something else. l have also sent my first born to a remarkable boarding school from the grinding mill profits – not my salary.

My name is Shuro Zvinosara of Rossal farm near Chatsworth. As from 2019 season we started processing our own poultry and cattle stock feed formula due to the high cost and shortage of stock feed in Chatsworth agricultural outlets. I and my family members discussed a lot about stock supplements caused by poor condition of our stock during winter and even dry spell months. We own 23 head of cattle on our farm of 35 hectares. In 2021 I bought a grinding mill  of 22HP so that we can make our own feed formulation. We mobilised the surrounding community to pick Acacia pods, which we bought at a price of US$2/50kg bag. I grind rhwm and produce a very good stock feed very rich in protein. I also grind maize stalks, maize cobs and also bedding and droppings from my poultry. I mixed all these ingredients, adding a little salt of not more than 200 grams per 50kgs. During the first days my stock were not used to my feed but now there’s no problem. I have got good stock throughout the year, even birth rate of my stock is very good. My future plan is to grow soybeans and sunflower so that I can make my own poultry feed. Some of nearby farmers from Northdale and Lonely bought their stuff to my farm for processing and I .charge them. For every feed grind you pay quarter of your feed, but at sometimes I charge only US$1 depending upon your stuff.

I am Norman Mazhowo, a 41 year old male farmer from Mvurwi ward 29, Barrock farm. I specialise in cattle farming and have recently started pen fattening. To complement feed bought from National Foods, which I transport in my own truck, I make my one mix from soyabean and maize with their residues. I own a sheller which separate grain from stalks and cobs, and I think use a grinding mill to grind all the grain and create the mix during grinding. I have about 30 cattle in my pens at the moment, and the business makes a good profit, which has allowed me to buy some residential stands in Mvurwi.


This machine is used to shell maize grain. It is driven by an engine from the tractor. Farmers used to thresh cobs using sticks or logs, an operation that demands lots of labour. The sheller saves a lot of time. Shellers are however not widely used due to misconceptions, but in truth shellers are cheaper than manual shelling. It is well worth using a sheller if one has a big harvest of maize as we often do here in Wondedzo.

A dehuller machine is used to peel off grain shells, particularly from maize and sorghum. The processed maize grain is used to make mealie rice, refined mealie meal and mashazhare. It is now a common technology used by local farmers especially young women who shun the traditional pestle and mortar technology, which they say is tiresome and less productive.

I am Mrs Mamvura, aged 45 and a teacher based in Triangle. I supplement my salary with processing groundnuts. I bought a peanut sheller made by a local welder from scrap metal. Shelling makes USD1 for each two 2 litre buckets. I have my own groundnuts too and I decided to upgrade to make peanut butter. I have a roasting tray that the local welder made for me and I bought a peanut butter maker from Harare (in fact I now have two). I sell a 750ml jar of peanut butter for a dollar, and use both my own groundnuts and others I buy in.


My name is Chiloto Makondo from Chikombedzi area and I am 35 years old. I am a farmer, but also used to do some brick making and well digging. Now I am into threshing business. I got a thresher made in our local township. You buy the metal and pay for the labour. They also do repairs at any time. I bought a very good 8HP engine in Harare to run it. I specialise in sorghum, which is the main crop here. I transport my thresher to different farms, either pulling it on a cart by donkey or if further afield I hire motor transport. People hire me to thresh their dry sorghum. I charge 1 bag for every 10 bags. The costs are transport and fuel, but my machine is efficient and 1 litre of diesel can thresh 1 tonne. The problem is the cost of fuel, which you have to buy on the black market at 30 rands per litre. Through this work I make a good living. I sell the sorghum to Delta company, which provides a good service.

My name is Clemence Chigumba and I am 67 years old. I worked at Hippo Valley for many years as a haulage driver. With my retirement package I bought a grinding mill, then tried my hand at irrigation, but now I am focusing on threshing services. I service the nearby Milikanga irrigation scheme, which has 20 hectares of wheat being grown on small plots of 0.4 ha. It’s under the Presidential Inputs Scheme so the wheat is sold to the GMB at USD335 per tonne. For threshing, I charge 10kg of wheat for every 5 bags. When I thresh sorghum, I charge 1 bag for every 10. I pull my thresher to the scheme by tractor. People book in advance and there is high demand for threshing services.

I am Mr Makamure and I am disabled now because of a stroke. Luckily I invested in a grinding mill when I was in a job, and this is a lifeline. I employ an attendant to be there. I have now extended the mill to include a thresher so that I can produce finer maize meal and mealie rice that people like. There is much demand here in Triangle area and there is always good business. I rely on electricity for both mills, which is a challenge, but the business is keeping me going and providing support for my 10 children.  

Peanut butter processors – and repairers

I am Joseph Maluleke. I was born and grew up in Chikombedzi area. I own two peanut butter making machines that I bought from Harare. Circumcision parties are attended by many people from the area and relish is cooked with peanut butter. I make a good profit from peanut butter processing. This year l have been employing five strong boys to operate the manual machine. I also own an electronic processing machine, but due to load shedding in the township I was relying on the manual machine. Long meandering queues were experienced each day, with customers attracted from all over Chiredzi South constituency. I charge 2.50 South African Rands for processing a cup of peanuts. Due to the highly labour-intensive operation, the boys had to rotate. Others have petrol- and diesel-powered machines but fuel costs have become a big challenge, and as a result they run at a loss. My groundnut processing business is good. I educated my young brother from it, who became a lecturer before his premature death. The business is my best source of funds. I also paid fees for one of my sons who later graduated as an electrician. The machine needs completely dry peanuts. If peanuts are not fully dried, they stick to the bearings causing overuse and then breakdowns. In the past, getting bearings was a problem as I had to buy in Harare, but these days local welders sell every size of bearings. In the past, when the machines needed repairs, I used to have to take it to where I bought it but now there are locally based and mobile welders who have all sorts of experience in metal work.

I am Mr Ephraim Chikombarume from Chatsworth Estate farm and I settled here in 2000 from Chivhu area. I started growing groundnuts for the past five years but nothing improved my lifestyle even my family. Each and every year I grow groundnuts of about 1.5-2 hectares and sold them fresh. But as from 2021 season when my local pastor Mr Javangwe discussed with me about processing your own stuff, I bought my peanut grinding mill. I calculated the outcome. I am now earning a salary. I sell 375 ml bottles of peanut at US$1. Not only that, but most surrounding farmers came to my plot for the processing of their groundnuts. I charge US$2 per five litre container. In my ward 32 in Chatsworth there are three with peanut butter processing machines, including Mr Javangwe and Mr Zikani a local businessman. These two have got electrical machines, whereas I use solar – that’s my advantage because of the load shedding. What I encouraged my fellow farmers is never ever to sell your produce unprocessed.

My name is Hombe. I own a welding shop at Chikombedzi Township. I have few customers at the Township Centre as compared to mobile welding trips around different places in the area, especially in the land reform areas. One of these places is Guwulini. In this place farmers prefer growing groundnuts and there are quite a good number of farmers owning peanut butter processing machines. There is therefore a high demand from farmers who need my services, so I come perhaps 4-5 times a month. Farmers usually give me emergency calls during peak periods of processing. Farmers prefer manual machines as there is no electricity in the area. Their major challenge is the breaking of bearings. I make, repair and modify the machines. My problem is transport. I have to get others to take me and during the rainy season the roads are impassable.

Popcorn maker

I am from Wondedzo near Masvingo and have a maputi gun. The machine is used to roast maize grain to make popcorn, locally called maputi. It is powered by fire from firewood or coal. The machine is locally made by artisans in Masvingo and Mutare. As a relatively new technology, the adoption rate is low, and there are only two machines in our area. But demand for pop corn is very high here and the country at large. A very simple structure is used to house the machine and a single machine is sold at US$179 in Mutare.

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, a few of which are included here.

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

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