Agriculture: Low-hanging fruit with sound policies - Zimbabwe Situation

Agriculture: Low-hanging fruit with sound policies

Source: Agriculture: Low-hanging fruit with sound policies | Daily News

HARARE – Agriculture was an enabler to urbanisation. Increased productivity meant large segments of the population could be fed by a few committed to agricultural production.

Irrigation technologies evolved through ages from the Mesopotamian shaduf to the modern day drip and centre pivot systems.

Its foolhardy to believe that mere ownership and control of a resource without generating economic value from it enhances sovereignty when your self-pride is eroded by beggar-hood for survival.

Resource utilisation should benefit society and create social security and stability. Poverty amidst plenty is a mind-boggling concept.

Resource curse is a recurrent theme across sub-Saharan Africa and of late once promising countries in Latin America have joined the league of confused states.

There is no justice in owning and controlling a natural resource which you cannot utilise for the good of humanity. You had no role in the resource creation but a beneficiary of man-made processes.

Zimbabwe enjoys a host of natural and acquired comparative advantages in agricultural production ranging from good soil fertility, diverse climate to a sound agro-technical skills base and citizenry generally passionate in farming.

We are not a lazy nation, our downside is confused politics and goofy bohemian economics incompatible with modern economic management systems.

We have a sound infrastructure base which historically was supported by an efficient and effective research and extension service which of late has become a ghost shadow of its previous glory.

Flagship research institutions like the Henderson, Grasslands, Matopos and Makoholi now look like a disused military training base for rebels in Gorongossa mountain forests.

A downgraded agro-industrial complex no longer serves its historic mandate due to incapacitation and inefficient use of obsolete equipment and reduced agro-commodity throughput to production processes.

Outsourcing of inputs is hindered by foreign currency availability and restrictions.

Generally, the supportive pillars for jump starting agricultural development are intact but the downside of the ecosystem is the absence creative, sustainable and coherent & consistent policy framework and the political will to implement the development agenda.

Land resource value generation after the land reform exercise can be realised through systematic and well-coordinated agriculture sector approach which takes into account unique realities faced by farmers in different sector models. Only voters can be equal but not farmers!

Productivity and ownership are not synonymous and its colour blind.

We need a dramatic paradigm shift from investing too much negative energy in power and control politics towards positive energy expending in nonpartisan development politics for the benefit of humanity.

In any case, sound development policies that get implemented are the surest basis for power retention through ingratiating the populace as opposed to adopting gestapo tactics.

Sustainable state-stewardship should be hinged on sound environmental policy framework for maximum cooperation from the citizenry.

Communal & A1

Historically this sector’s self-driven and self-dependent as a subsistence sector with little to self in good seasons.

A1 settlement model  has assisted in decongesting communal areas ,a legacy of a raft of repressive and racial segregatory acts such as Native Reserve Areas act and the Land Husbandry and Apportionment Act of the colonial  era.

Its most unfortunate that de-congestation of these areas has not be matched by any concerted efforts of rehabilitating them because a large segment of our population still subsists from that land!

Of late, an unsustainable dependency syndrome has been created through what appear to be moral and philanthropic initiatives by the state through such financing models like the annually chronicled Presidential Inputs Scheme which besides its noble intentions is highly vulnerable to political manipulation by purveyors of patronage and other vices.

Some non-farming politically connected youths access these inputs thereby depriving genuine farmers.

Numerous cases of top-notch political godfathers compiling lists of poor peasants as the supposed beneficiaries but only to divert the inputs to their farms and turn them into personal wealth.

Lots of expensive heavy agricultural equipment intended for use by farmers on a cooperative basis.

Irrigation pipes for smallholder irrigation have been looted in the same systematic manner and the chief culprits are well known but remain untouchable for the moment until peptic justice finally settles in at some stage.

No transparency, no accountability but impunity all the way.

Government extension services have taken a nosedive for a variety of reasons chief amongst which is inadequate remuneration for extension staff who either choose to spend more time attending their personal plots or only servicing those contracted tobacco farmers after which they receive a stipend from the contracting firms. The poor peasant is left to their devices which including’ peeping’ for knowledge from the contracted neighbour’s modus operandi.

Security of tenure is not only an incentive for big farmers but everybody. Its an enabler for investment even in the communal and A1 sector.

One way of enhancing security of tenure in the communal sector is by way of establishing locally-elected Community Property Associations in which the local traditional leadership plays a crucial role.

Village land committees, with assistance from technical extension experts should determine land allocation and use.

This setup will help in curbing errant behaviour of unscrupulous village and kraal heads who corruptly settle people in grazing areas and wetlands.

All communal land must be surveyed and mapped and each Community Property Association given official title deeds by local deeds office.

All committees must maintain land registries which are presented to the Land Registry and in turn they’re issued with a clearly demarcated survey map.

Within the Community Property Association, elected committees should be empowered to issue out official Certificates of Occupancy to individual households as an acceptable document for security of tenure for communal landholders.

It now makes it more sensible to invest in communal land agriculture without fear of loss of value over the uncertain future. You can never be sure in Africa for hyenas and crocs abound!

Land is a finite resource which sustains an exponentially growing population. Sustaining increased productivity is not an option but a sacred must.

Once non-farming communities are assured of a dependable and affordable source of food, they voluntarily cede their right to produce for themselves to those who have
taken food production as a fulltime career thereby removing the unnecessary and sometimes violent competition for agricultural land as we occasionally witness in Nigeria and Ethiopia.

Fatal struggles for a limited resource!

Smallholder irrigation development and rural electrification are key infrastructural enablers to rural development for their positive effect in boosting land use intensity through enhanced cropping frequency on a given unit of land for the whole year as opposed to one cropping programme per annum under rain-fed agriculture systems.

Rural electrification makes community based industrialisation possible through use of locally available agricultural resources.

Well planned rural economies driven by rural small-scale agriculture have the capacity to generate more jobs than the potential jobs that exist in urban areas where a rigmarole of legislative and city bye laws make it difficult to enter or start a business.

Develop the necessary rural infrastructure from road networks, postal& banking services and other  ancillary supporting services.

This facilitates community industrialisation. Such an environment attracts private investments because of new opportunities to be exploited.

Opportunities in urban areas are largely exhausted and too many competitors offer the same goods and services with very little diversity or quality differentials.

Demand for agricultural goods by nature is relatively inelastic because they are a necessity and the range of substitutes in not that big.

Competition by large producers may not be that stiff because such small-scale markets may be necessary to protect through legislation to allow small communal entrepreneurs to grow.

The infant industry argument apt applies in this instance and its genuine! Communal and A1 farmers can be organised to form synergies with private players that include multinationals or their subsidiaries in creating marketing and production synergies to access specialised local and export  markets.

This helps to encourage creativity, innovativeness and quality control improvements from production to the processing chains.

Higher levels of production efficiency through technology infusion become possible. Put more focus in reactivating agro-commodity associations to enhance commodity production specialisation and research.

There is no point in producing what you cannot sell. Commodity associations are better placed to represent all farmers in determining better marketing arrangements.

There is too much random marketing all over the show and this doesn’t augur well for farmers who just produce anything at any given time without an iota of an idea of what the markets look like when their produce is ready for the market.

Cooperative farming has proved disastrous for various reasons ranging from lack of uniform commitment, acts of dishonesty and financial impropriety by some cooperative members.

Those trained to manage finances become swindlers.

Farmers should be assisted in identifying well-meaning members from amongst themselves and form viable farming clubs with a feasible membership size so that they can jointly benefit from any group assistance that may come their way.

Serious intensive extension services must be provided.

Smallholder irrigation should be appropriately designed for communal access where individual plot flourish with a centralised common extension advisory agency available.

The Nyanyadzi and Birchnough schemes are the prototype schemes in mind.

More funds should be channeled towards operations proper and not wasted on pampering management and supervisory staff with executive perks of topnotch vehicles as happened under command farming and the new smallholder irrigation initiative.

Old habits die hard!

Institute land tenure systems which give confidence to the farmer which are immune from political manipulation and threats of eviction for failure to regularly attend party meetings.

Commercial & A2

The criteria to access commercial agricultural land must be clearly and unequivocally expressed.

Multiple farm ownership for various reasons other than agriculture must be criminalised.

The farmer selection criteria must be improved for any future land allocations because the previous experiment proved a monumental disaster by all accounts.
It became politics gone overboard in some instances.

To discourage opportunism in land allocations, the government must establish a reliable and foolproof farmer database with all relevant information pertaining to the farmer’s competencies and farm physical attributes.

A ward based monitoring team of incorruptible extension officers must be put in place to continuously monitor land utilisation.

Unutilised and under-utilised land should be heavily taxed on a per hectare basis.

This will ship out pretenders from the flock and more land made available to those who have what it takes to be successful farmers.

Idle land represents a huge opportunity cost to the nation and it can’t be business as usual, no matter who is in charge at statehouse.

Acceptable excuse for laying land fallow only acceptable in compliance with crop rotational requirements say in tobacco farming  but this must be verified and authenticated by the ward based monitoring teams!

Farmers selection criteria for commercial farming models should be based on technical expertise coupled with a passionate commitment .Not everyone is a farmer!

The provision of ability to hire a manager as a qualifying criteria must be removed!

That provision has allowed those who made their money outside farming to access commercial land and renege on their commitment to hire qualified and experienced managers because they don’t want to pay for skilled labour.

They instead hire substandard supervisors who are lowly paid and productivity on potentially high produce farms compromised.

Some have been truthful however but many have failed to walk the talk and they constitute the bulk of telephone farmers and seldom come to their farms and if they do its note about brazing then disappear.

Any future land allocations for commercial agriculture must be preferentially allocated to qualified and passionate agricultural professionals who should be actively supported on a preferential basis to partake in a full monitored programme, well-funded to avoid disappointment.

These are the people who should have been prioritised in earlier programmes but were sidelined by those with political clout.

Govt must objectively assess productivity on all high potential farms throughout the country and come up with remedial recommendations as a matter urgency because land is lying idle.

Apart from lack of expertise, the major hurdle is lack of capital.

Capital channelled to professionals gets repaid.

A golden opportunity was squandered during the RBZ farm mechanisation era when undeserving beneficiaries abused the equipment.

Some sold it outright, some broke down and never repaired. Some was kept at the Big Man’s farms for safekeeping and just vanished like that, only for the liability to be assumed by the state at the taxpayer’s expense to sooth the rapaciousness of the elites and the politically connected.

Creative sustainable financing models for agriculture are critical Contract farming, command, private public partnerships and joint ventures must be encouraged.

Horticulture

A revolving horticultural revolving fund is necessary.

Horticulture is an expensive and capital-intensive enterprise which requires considerable technical expertise.

The skills technical base must be continuously upgraded through training workshops.

Identify and compile a list of potential horticultural producers in the country and provide targeted financing to this nucleus group of farmers first.

Aggressive market research and marketing is necessary in these highly competitive horticultural markets where quality control and compliance with quality standards can be vexatious.

Citrus production needs a complete re-look if we are to be where we were previously. Existing citrus plantations must be improved and the scale of production enlarged.
New plantations should be developed especially in the Zambezi Valley Chirundu areas and elsewhere.

Arda and the Forestry Commission can venture into fruit plantations with relative ease.

Cereals & Pulses

Command agriculture has reaffirmed the ability of local farmers to produce if there is a timely and adequate resource backup.

Improvement in water harvesting techniques and irrigation has played a pivotal role in the command farming story.

Private companies in agribusiness should come in with their innovative funding models especially for winter cereal and pulses production to ensure an improved manufacturing capacity which is largely constrained by limited throughput in agro industrial processing.

Govt must ensure that it utilises costs such as electricity, water, labour and fuel are within acceptable range which makes local production competitive relative to competing producers if import substitution is to make sense given our foreign currency woes.

Livestock

Commercial beef production can start in Ernest if the CSC assumes a pivotal role if sufficiently capacitated. It requires rehabilitation of its once extensive livestock farms which it managed in complementarity with a highly-successful grazier scheme which assisted farmers to increase their herd size at lesser costs.

Complimentary small livestock production should be actively supported as it plays a key role in subsistence agriculture

Small scale and large scale dairying should be continuously improved through improved dairy genetics for improved milk yields coupled with sound technical management competencies.

That dairy production base is depleted and additional schemes must be planned if local production is to satisfy local demand.

Private public partnerships are critical in this sector particularly with key stakeholders in the livestock industry and agro processing. The role of an efficient and effective animal disease and control veterinary services cannot be over emphasized.

Tobacco

Zimbabwe has one of the best tobacco research institutions in the world but tobacco farming has of late lost the glory of being one of the better profitable enterprises for a variety of reasons.

Production is increasingly funded through contract farming.  There has been a gradual decline in quality leaf production despite the quantum leap in number of producers.

This is more to do with poor extension services and inadequate inputs applications doe to diversion of fertilisers to other poorly or zero funded staple crops like maize.

Farmers are left with nothing as the little from the poor quality leaf is cleared in stop order payments to the contracting firms.

Farmers have been reduced to voluntary slaves with nothing to show for their sweat.

This is a real sad story!

All that is left are depleted forests as memorabilia for future defence.

Environmental Management Agency (Ema) seems preoccupied with mining degradation in general.

In farming its only about tree cutting and nothing  about soil conservation.  There is need to complement Agritex.

Conclusion

All land must be fully utilised and the state is failing to lead by example. A lot of state land under ZPCS is lying fallow because of inadequate funding coupled with a haphazard management in farming operations.

It makes sense to invite strategic partnerships to sustain some of these operations

Any new land allocations bust be made to qualified persons and the era of using land allocations as spoils of political patronage must be a thing of the past!

* Gwenzi-Chivero Mutimusakwa is a agricultural economist. He is available at @knoxmutigmail.com

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