Agric, Way Forward After COVID-19

The most debated issue among stakeholders in various sectors of the economy is how they will relaunch their businesses and get back to viable ways in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that has literally brought everything to a halt.

Of course, all eyes will be on what else the Government will offer, especially after President Mnangagwa announced the $18 billion bailout package for industry.

But for the aid to be effective, it will also take the effort and commitment of the beneficiaries to anchor their revival bid on what remained of their companies after the Covid-19 disaster.

While other sectors took the battering wholly, the story was a bit different with the farming sector where the cropping front was not affected to disastrous levels.

Production did not stop, especially for field crops that were at various stages of growth.

Markets for agricultural produce were the worst affected, especially in the early days of the lockdown when all business was on hold.

The horticulture sector took the severest clobbering, as most of the produce is supposed to be marketed fresh and at a particular stage of maturity.

The lockdown announced by Government effectively meant that no transport was available to ferry produce to the markets, hence producers found themselves stuck with produce.

Citrus farmers, for instance, were among the hardest hit, while the story was the same for crops like tomatoes and other vegetables that need to be sold and eaten fresh.

The citrus sector may need to extend a begging bowl seeking capital for the procurement of chemicals and revamping irrigation infrastructure so that they can take-off vigorously after the pandemic.

This other day I was talking to my friend, Mr Stancilae Tapererwa, who is the Mashonaland Central Provincial Agricultural Extension Officer, and he told me that citrus farmers were among the hardest hit in the sector, as they were unable in the first days of the lockdown to get their produce to their markets, leading to the bulk of it rotting on the plantations.

Those farmers will need to get fluent funding to recapitalise and get their businesses going once again.

They lost a lot of revenue, which will make it difficult for them to re-launch their programmes without external assistance.

Under normal circumstances, they use proceeds from the sale of fruits to fund their operations, but for now they face the unenviable task of trying to mobilise capital to pay for everything from very little if any, produce raised from the plantations.

While markets were the first to visibly suffer from the effects of the lockdown, there are agro-dealer shops that were also shut down and may not be operational, yet may have re-opened, but not to capacity, which brings in loads of uncertainty on the availability of their products when the country finally starts to operate effectively.

The sad possibility of stampede for the products is there and this may likely trigger a price increase that will push the commodities out of the reach of many.

Inputs and farming hardware may be available in the shops, but will not be affordable for many.

Farmers on the other hand have not been able to do some of the activities that they used to do to raise extra money, which means when the country eventually lifts the lockdown, they will be penniless and will not be able to engage helping hands.

This will have ripple effects on many families that used to depend on those part-time jobs on farms.

Uncertainty will also surround the viability of markets when they re-open, which will leave farmers in a catch-22 situation on the quantities of crops to plant and eventually take to the markets.

Recovery of the markets will certainly take place at a very slow pace, which also translates into a slow in the levels of production.

It is encouraging to note that in terms of labour, the majority of farmers was not affected, as extra labour was actually availed by the disaster.

A lot of people who had been doing mining and other activities that were shut down retreated to the communal and farming areas where they also sought something to do and earn some income.

The farmer’s job was only to ensure the hired labour complied with Government directives on such things as social distancing and avoiding working close to each other.

Most small-scale farmers were not seriously affected by Covid-19, but were victims of the drought that ravaged the country in the past season.

Only farmers who hire labour from urban areas were the most affected, as they failed to provide transport to ferry the people to the farms.

In general, farmers would just use family for labour and just monitor compliance to the requirements of containing the spread of Covid-19 in line with Government directives so they were not seriously affected in terms of labour availability.

For livestock farmers, the lockdown might not have done something to physically affect them, but slowed the pace of business in many ways that ended up affecting their incomes, especially if they keep animals for sale to various markets.

In this case, it was the markets that were shut down, leaving the farmers facing the costs of keeping animals that should have been slaughtered or sold off.

For them to come into the game again after the lockdown, it may be necessary for Government to introduce balers in almost every district so that farmers can cut grass and bale it for use later when pastures will be virtually dry.

Balers will enable the farmers to store grass safely for animals to eat during the driest moments of the year.

Areas like Rushinga in Mashonaland Central, the Matabeleland region and Masvingo province that have shortages of grazing pastures may do with balers to cut the grass that is currently still available for later use.

Farmers that are still harvesting can also do urea treatment and get molasses from the Lowveld before treating the crops residue and stocking it in covered pits for future use.

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