Conrad Gweru Correspondent
Feeding Zimbabwe and subsequently attaining the breadbasket status will require a holistic approach to the country’s agriculture sector.
This will have to begin with the Government in terms of structure and policy, the business sector in terms of access to loans and credit facilities that do not discriminate against size of farmers, the community who provide the much needed labour as well as the producers of agricultural products.
Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, should design policies and put in place structures that allow producers, business and development partners to equally feed into the sector through innovative solutions as well as giving each other the much needed support instead of depriving others of certain resources while others benefit immensely.
In the absence of a vibrant farmers union such as the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, the smallholder farmer, a pillar of local economic activity, is operating from hand to mouth today.
The much needed support is rare and those that are fortunate are getting support from donor funding whose purse is also shrinking.
There is the Presidential Inputs Scheme, a noble idea to support smallholder farmers with inputs, but unfortunately it is not enough.
At that level, it is expected that microfinance institutions would bring innovative solutions that ensure that smallholder farmers have access to flexible credit facilities.
The presence of microfinance institutions will enhance Government policy such as Command Agriculture. While we have not reached a stage where this policy can be fully assessed, it is important to note that it faced a few glitches and challenges and these could be addressed by the presence of financial institutions at the lower level. Microfinance institutions will ensure that farmers be liquid and therefore are able to purchase inputs.
The ability to purchase inputs and to do so on time is very important. It is also key especially in the policy direction that the Government has taken — that of Command Agriculture.
The presence of financial institutions is part of the solution as being liquid does not necessarily mean having access. Inputs and other resources for crop and animal husbandry should be made available also at lower levels by suppliers attracted by existence of liquid farmers.
Government should only come in through interpretation of policy and injecting money into the system. The strategic direction that the Government is taking in the sector can best be interpreted by extension workers who have contact with the farmers at ward level while the business community can interact at higher levels.
In a command system, Government will ensure that the business sector provides the much needed inputs and resources to the farmer and ensure that both domestic and international market is guaranteed for the farmer upon harvest.
In this case therefore, Government invests in existing structure which in turn produces according to what Government envisions, thereby meeting the goals of a particular policy. Such an approach will ensure that all stakeholders are involved in the system with Government as the prefect and interpreter of policy.
Buyers are key players who ought to be supported by Government through access to capital and many other ways. Buyers should not only be seen at harvest time, but should be interacting with farmers during the production period to ensure the quality of produce meets their expectations.
This has been happening in the tobacco and cotton sectors as these are traditional cash crops. However, there are other emerging cash crops such as sesame and pulses with potential to boost all types of farmers.
The same can be said of the livestock sector where small livestock is getting the attention and interest of domestic and international markets.
When buyers receive support from Government, they augment the existence of input and equipment suppliers who benefit from their ‘marketing’ of pre and post-harvest equipment and resources required for various crops as well as resources for other forms of farming.
They will also give the much needed support to extension workers who are mainly involved in educating and raising awareness of farmers on new techniques as well as other information concerning farmers from stakeholders.
Given that information is power, the entrance of information and communication technology companies at large-scale can never be overemphasised.
These companies are key in setting up local weather stations, passing market information on a daily basis, educating farmers on new techniques, sensitising on any disease outbreaks that can affect farmers and how farmers can avoid being affected by such, as well as mobilising farmers when there is need.
ICT companies have the leverage of setting up virtual extension services and this will enhance the sector as it has potential to reach farmers who cannot be physically contacted by extension workers due to many other challenges such as mobility or poor roads.
Companies involved in value addition should be encouraged through tax rebates and other means by Government if they set up in rural areas or in places where production of a certain commodity is very high.
Such set-ups will make economic sense as it will cut down on cost of transport for farmers as well as ensuring that those that are not employed in the production process can be employed by such companies.
The potential that Zimbabwe has in the agriculture sector can only be realised once stakeholders involved work and plan together.
- Conrad Gweru is a Communications and Advocacy Specialist. He writes in his personal capacity. For feedback contact firstname.lastname@example.org