Plataforma de Conocimientos sobre las Cadenas de Valor Alimentarias Sostenibles

Mechanizing post-harvest activities for a sustainable soybean value chain in Zambia


Under the “Sustainable, resilient and inclusive food systems development Programme”, funded by the global Flexible Multi-Partner Mechanism (FMM), FAO has supported the Government of Zambia and the soybean industry in preparing the soybean value chain analysis and upgrading sector strategy for 2023-2028.


Hand-threshing, a widespread practice that undermines socio-economic benefits. The analysis highlighted the negative effects of the post-harvest hand-threshing method for the sustainable development of the soybean value chain. Over 90 percent of famers in Zambia, particularly women, use a hand-threshing method, which consists of beating the grain with a wooden stick on a hard surface. This method leads to grain damage and grain loss. It is also a limiting factor for the area cultivated, since when planting, farmers consider physical capacity and time needed for harvesting and packaging the crop for markets. Hence the harvesting process dictates the area planted and consequently quantity and quality of the crop sold. Hand-threshing does not only induce income shortfalls for the farmers. It also poses health risks for them, as the dust raised during hand-threshing is blamed for causing respiratory illnesses.


The Thresher Pilot Project: testing, evaluating and scaling-up mechanized threshing. To help mitigate these negative effects, the 2023-2028 Zambian Soybean Strategy has developed a mechanization component. The Thresher Pilot Project is to proof the concept. The team has worked with selected women-owned cooperatives in Lusaka and Central Provinces. This project is based on the assumption that the use of locally manufactured multi-crop threshers will speed up the time needed to thresh crops, improve product quality, increase income and encourage farmers to plant larger areas of the crop.


The two cooperatives selected for piloting the project are specialized in crop production (soybeans, maize and groundnuts). They were selected based on various criteria, among which a particular attention was given to the inclusion of women and youth. In Lusaka Province, the women-led Dynamic Developers Multi-Purpose Cooperative- 100 members benefited re based in Lusaka which 35% are young people. In Central Province, the Chibwe Multi-Purpose Cooperative has benefited an average of 300 members of whom 60% are women and 30% of the women are youth.

The threshers were procured through a competitive process from local and international suppliers. A Zambian manufacturing company with capabilities of transferring the manufacturing skills to Zambian youth was selected to supply two threshers to the two selected Women Cooperatives. The machines had the following specifications:


  • User friendly (on four wheels, can be pulled by animals or vehicle/tractor, fewer moving parts, ease of maintenance, Safety guards on all moving belts)
  • Multi-crop threshing capabilities including soybeans, maize, sorghum, millet, rice, common bean, cowpea, sunflower.
  • Powered by a 20-24 Hp diesel engine with water cooling and heavy-duty flywheel for greater torque
  • Threshing capacity of up to 500Kgs/hour for soya and 3000Kgs/hour for maize.


To implement the Thresher Pilot Project, the FAO collaborated with Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL) and recruited a thresher specialist and a national technical facilitator to train the beneficiaries and oversee the implementation of the Thresher Pilot Project. SIL is a network of public and private institutions across the entire soybean value chain working to provide critical information and technology needed for successful advancement of soybean development in Africa.. The upcoming technical reports will draw lessons on the scaling-up strategy of the project (i.e. assess whether it could indeed deliver the assumed outcomes at scale).  


During July and August 2022, FAO provided business management training to the leaders of the cooperatives focusing specifically on skills relating to scheduling of threshing operations, collecting revenues, banking, monitoring expenses and record keeping.


Data collection tools were designed to monitor the following indicators: Hours of operations for the equipment; Quantity of soybeans and maize threshed per hour;Number of farmers serviced;Revenue collected;Machine running expenses; Volumes of crops threshed; Quality of threshed crop (determined by the price fetched by farmers as sale point); Time saving achieved by machine threshing compared to hand-threshing;Area cultivated (maize and soybeans) by farmers who have access to machine thresher.


The success of the pilot project will determine its scaling-up and will be assessed based on following criteria: 


  • The machine threshers save time and drudgery for women to undertake other activities, and for girl child to attend school;
  • Women expand areas cultivated as a result of labour saving technology introduced in the post-harvest activities;
  • Women cooperatives are able to grow their finances through revenues generated by provision of threshing services to their members and community;
  • Improved health of workers.


Picture: James Daka. Women in Zambia hand-thresh soybeans, releasing grain from pods. This exposes them and their babies to dust, causing respiratory diseases.

Idioma: English
País: Zambia

The News Enfoque del artículo de noticias en cuanto a:
Productos básicos: Soybean
Temas: Analysis in general