By Sifelani Tsiko
To travel is to see. And many people still think that big things only happen in Harare and not anywhere else.
As urbanites, we have now become fixated to the idea that politics, business and other news-breaking events only happen in “big” Harare.
But my whirlwind trip to rural projects run by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and its partners such as the Ministry Lands, Agriculture, Climate and Rural Resettlement, Practical Action, local communities and other stakeholders in Makoni, Mutasa, Chimanimani, Chipinge, Chiredzi and Masvingo rural districts, tells a different story.
The trip peeled my eyes in many ways. It showed how agriculture can be an important vehicle for Zimbabwe to attain its middle-income status by 2030.
I saw first hand, how resilient rural communities are; using agriculture to transform their livelihoods and improve the quality of their lives.
The rehabilitation of smallholder irrigation projects across the country by FAO, the Government and other partners is helping local communities to boost their livestock and crop production.
Through the improved Nutrition Sustainable Production for Increased Resilience and Economic growth (INSPIRE) project implemented by Practical Action and the Smallholder Irrigation projects supported by the FAO, many rural farmers are now engaged in livestock rearing, crop production, beekeeping, fish farming, banana growing and harnessing of wild fruit products.
In Makoni District, the Headlands Goat Breeders Association is involved in the breeding of Boer, Kalahari, Angora and Matebele goats, something which has resulted in bigger framed offsprings with faster growth rates. The association is taking goat breeding as a business.
To date, the association has conducted two auctions where a total of 109 goats were sold at a value of nearly $6 500. Members have also diversified into indigenous chicken rearing. They have set up a hatchery to produce day-old chicks for sale.
Another group, Tayambuka in Mutasa District is involved in beef, poultry and fish farming with working contract arrangements with major meat suppliers.
Livestock fattening is their main line of business and they earned more than $7 000 after they sold their first batch of cattle. After covering all expenses, they realised a profit of $3 200.
At present, they have 41 cattle and are likely to realise nearly $20 000 once they sell their second batch.
In some sites, local farmers are involved in beekeeping, baobab processing, fish farming, seed production and the growing of horticultural products. Success stories are far too many to mention here.
The rehabilitation of 20 smallholder irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe by the FAO has had far-reaching implications in terms of food and nutrition security, improved livelihoods and quality of life.
Most farmers, apart from earning money and creating jobs for themselves, are now food secure. Irrigation farming is building farmers’ resilience and coping mechanism for droughts.
In addition to this, improved productivity and less reliance on rain-fed agriculture is a major plus for the farmers.
Farmers at Chiduku Tikwiri, Maunganidze, Mutema, Rozva and Stanmore irrigation schemes are growing tomatoes, onions, groundnuts, maize, bananas, sugar beans for seed production and Michigan beans that were self-financed. They are supplying seed to the Zimbabwe Super Seeds company on contract basis and beans, tomatoes, onions to Klein Karoo and Cairns Foods.
Farmers at these schemes on 0,3ha are hitting gross margins of up to $5 000.
Farming activities are all market-oriented and all this leaves the farmer with something in the pocket.
It is heartening that with the income they get, farmers are now able to feed themselves, pay fees for children and look after orphans in their communities. Some have bought farm implements and other accessories with the income they are getting.
All this points to the importance of agriculture in lifting the livelihoods of the people. Agriculture in these communities is creating jobs and wealth.
It is bringing hope and building the resilience of farmers.
And, the new Food and Agriculture Organisation sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa Dr Patrick Kormawa rightly pointed out during his maiden tour of FAO-supported projects in Zimbabwe: “As the FAO, we are here to support the Government and the people of Zimbabwe. We fully support President Mnangagwa’s Vision30 and we should use agriculture as a vehicle to make Zimbabwe a middle-income state by 2030.
“As an agriculture-based economy, we should try and tap on this to fulfil President Mnangagwa’s vision to make Zimbabwe a middle-income economy by 2030.”
He said it was pleasing that President Mnangagwa was spearheading efforts to reposition agriculture as the main driver for economic transformation, job and wealth creation as well as food security.
What the farmers are doing in their own communities shows that Zimbabwe’s vision to become a middle-income economy by 2030 is achievable if the Government invests in productive sectors and implement policies that encourage investment as well as entrepreneurial development.
Their work can complement President Mnangagwa’s efforts to attract massive investment inflows in various sectors to steer the country through the primary stages of a radical economic transformation that will see the country becoming a middle-income economy by 2030.
According to the World Bank, a middle-income economy is one with a gross national income ranging between $1 005 and $12 235 per capita.
Currently, the World Bank classifies Zimbabwe as a low-income economy.
Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and supporting our farmers with irrigation equipment, knowledge and extension services can have a huge impact on their lives.
It can create jobs, wealth and bring Zimbabwe closer to its hopes of becoming a middle-income economy by 2030.
Our farmers are enterprising and they can help to unlock value in our agricultural sector.
We have to set a new tone for agricultural development in the country and make commitments to utilise land for national food security and for the recovery of our economy.
We cannot afford to downplay or underestimate the value of this sector which accounts for between 9-15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and between 20-33 percent of export earnings.
In addition to this, agriculture contributes over 60 percent of raw materials to agro-industries, with more than 70 percent Zimbabweans deriving their livelihoods from the sector.