IN December 2020, top agronomist Mr Ivan Craig was appointed board chairperson of the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (Arda). He was immediately tasked with turning around the fortunes of the organisation, which had been dogged by mismanagement in the past. Our Senior Reporter Leroy Dzenga spoke to Mr ivan Craig to track the progress his board has made so far in changing the face of Arda.
Q: It has been over half a year now since your appointment. Can you outline what you think are the major highlights of your tenure so far?
A: The biggest milestone to date has been the resumption of own-cropping operations where we started off with reviving production at our Doreen’s Pride and Muzarabani Estates, which currently have 180 hectares and 160 hectares under cropping respectively.
This is following a successful summer 2020/21 crop of sorghum.
Q: Zimbabwe had a bumper harvest last cropping season, how did Arda estates fare?
A: ARDA contributed significantly to this success where our estates produced over 10 000 tonnes of cereals and over 1 000 tonnes of fibre and export crops through both its partnership arrangements and own operations across the country.
Our target going into the future is to produce 500 000 tonnes of crop cereals by 2025.
Q: There is increasing demand of agricultural land among landless Zimbabweans. Does Arda accommodate individuals looking to venture into farming, but are yet to get farms of their own?
A: Arda has participated in partnerships in the past and some of these are still in tenure.
Our drive at the moment is to fully utilise the land that we have on our own and there is currently no mandate to parcel out land to individuals for farming.
Q: Arda’s scope of operations can be split into two, business and rural development. How has the organisation been working to meet the demands of these two key developmental areas?
A: Our rural development initiative takes centre stage in the achievement of our core mandate.
We have on board 42 irrigation schemes out of a planned 450 across the country on a pilot project that will see us employing scheme business managers who will train the beneficiary farmers on how to run schemes as sustainable businesses on commercial principles.
In addition to this, we are working on a decentralised industrialisation model that will see Arda setting up rural industries that process the small-holder farmers’ produce at provincial level.
Q: Arda has the responsibility to ensure that Zimbabwe has enough grain in its Strategic Grain Reserve, how are we looking in that regard?
A: Arda currently has 88 000 hectares of arable land, but as Arda we are currently only utilising part of it, around 13 000 hectares and we have a plan to fully utilise the available land by 2023.
We are working to make sure that on the remaining land, we resuscitate irrigation, to make sure we have put some projects in order to fully utilise the land productively.
This will enable us to fully achieve our mandate of producing feed, food, fibre and biofuel.
We are currently working to add about 15 000 hectares of land across the country and setting up irrigation infrastructure on the same, supported by the parent Ministry where we plan to put grain, oilseed and fibre crops to support the mandate of ensuring the country has enough stock in the Strategic Grain Reserves.
Q: Arda has around 20 percent of its estates under irrigation. Are there any plans to increase the amount of land under irrigation?
A: As highlighted above, there is an aggressive drive to install irrigation pivots and conveyance water to the land that we are currently clearing with a target to add an additional 30 000 hectares on its current stock by 2023.
Q: We understand the organisation has a transformation strategy which the new chief executive officer was tasked to implement. What does it entail?
A: There was a deliberate move to transform Arda into a vehicle for national food, feed, fibre and bio-fuels security in line with Vision 2030 and National Development Strategy 1.
The new CEO has begun turning the fortunes of the authority and to respond to your question in brief, this entails sweating of Arda’s resources to produce food for the nation and drive rural development and profitability for the rural folk.
The strategy is to fully utilise Arda’s 88 000 hectares of arable land and spearheading rural development and industrialisation projects.