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Command Agric: The lessons we’ve learnt

Hon Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa
When our industries are profitable, finding financiers for them, including farming, would not be difficult, as investors would be guaranteed of a fair return on their investment.

There is no doubt that Command Agriculture has yielded positive results, as the projected maize yield from the 2016/2017 season will be the best in a number of years.

Indications from the areas I have toured to date suggest that we are headed for a bumper harvest that will be upward of two million tonnes.

It is vital that we deliberately develop strategies to enhance productivity by surpassing the tonnage achieved in the 2016/2017 summer cropping season.

Whereas our maize is marketed to the Grain Marketing Board at US$390 per tonne, regional and international maize prices are much lower, and the maize is normally landed in Zimbabwe at prices that are lower than this.

Government’s desire is to improve overall maize productivity across all farmer categories.

To achieve this goal, I enjoin you to make optimal use of every inch of land at your disposal and invest in irrigation development to ensure full utilisation of all available water bodies.

As Government, we remain grateful for the support and cooperation that we received from various inputs suppliers and financiers during the 2016/2017 agricultural season.

Furthermore, for the programme to be sustainable, the invested resources must offer fair returns as various competing options of growing shareholder value exist to investors. We must ensure that all the players across the maize value chain, be it the farmers, input suppliers, or financiers; get a fair return on their investment.

This is important as industrial profitability can attract offshore capital into this key strategic sector.

As a result of the expanded maize hectarage and increased yields during the 2016/2017 season, most maize value chain players benefited or are still to benefit from increased demand for their products.

In this respect, seed houses, fertiliser and chemical suppliers, all benefited.

The quantum leap in the 2016/2017 maize output should thus drive “economies” and various experiences across the value chain.

It is this cost efficiency that will make the agricultural sector, and by extension the country, competitive and attractive to investors.

It is Government’s desire to see the country’s farming activities become more productive and cost efficient, with an irrigable expanded maize crop area of a minimum of at least 300 000ha. Already, the Tokwe-Mukosi dam is almost complete and full, and is expected to add some 25 000ha of irrigated land, with the potential of creating massive employment opportunities.

There is, therefore, an imperative need for investment in irrigation in the area.

It is in this respect that Government, as detailed in Zim-Asset, sees farm mechanisation and automation as key to the attainment of this objective.

Also, the adoption of modern technologies on soil-testing and management, development and distribution of improved seed varieties, availing of additional water bodies and the corresponding water/application systems, is critical.

Pursuant to operationalising the above, Government is still receiving farming equipment, including tractors and irrigation equipment, from such countries as Belarus and Brazil, which are all meant to attain this objective.

Furthermore, research into hybrid seeds is continuing at such institutions as the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre and various seed houses.

You will also realise that Government visibility, in the form of Agritex officers and senior officers in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation, and Irrigation Development, was more enhanced this season, which is a clear show of its commitment to agriculture and ability to turn around the economy.

Our ultimate goal is to have at least two in every five of our farmers hitting 10 tonnes and above, as a result of improved yields and the coming on board of new farmers during the 2017/2018 season.

In its quest to attain best practices in agriculture, the Government of Zimbabwe should consider adopting modern IT-driven farming, as is currently the case in countries such as South Africa and Kenya, among others.

The benefits of this move are multifarious, including the ability to conduct instant soils tests, obtain information about the weather, better management of irrigation systems, forecasting yields, receiving information on commodity prices and markets, and thereby allowing farmers leeway to effectively plan vital activities like planting, fertiliser application, harvesting, and marketing of the produce.

Such information, coupled with advice from extension officers, should improve farm productivity and make farming more cost-efficient.

With a database of farmers, it will be possible for Government to simultaneously disseminate a single message communication on issues like pests, diseases and their control to a large number of farmers.

Inputs

High input costs constrained the 2016/2017 agricultural season.

The unsustainable cost of inputs is attributable to a number of reasons, including, but not limited to low productivity across agro-related sectors. High transport costs, particularly rail, high seed and fertiliser prices, and the cost of water and electricity, as is currently the case across industry, affect farm productivity.

This calls for urgent stakeholder attention and engagement.

Government is, however, working on ways to capacitate the National Railways of Zimbabwe, to enable it to fulfil its strategic role of moving various goods, including grain across the country.

It is critical to embark on a blitz approach to maintain and repair our road network, particularly in rural areas to ensure that farmers have quick access to markets and related services.

It is my fervent hope that deliberations will help us find solutions to some of the challenges we have.

This, coupled with an attention to productivity across the board, must help us recover the economy; grow our exports and discourage imports.

When our industries are profitable, finding financiers for them, including farming, would not be difficult, as investors would be guaranteed of a fair return on their investment.

With regards to the maize harvest for the 2016/2017 agricultural season, Government has made sure that storage facilities of up to four million tonnes are made available, as well as dryers to reduce maize moisture content to acceptable levels, to free the land for winter crops. Other strategies to motivate farmers include paying them on time for grain delivered.

To date, funds have been secured to pay the farmers for the produce.

Buoyed by these successes, Government intends to extend Command Agriculture to livestock, cotton, soya beans, wheat and other high value crops capable of earning the country foreign currency.

Preparations for the winter wheat crop are now in full swing.

Maize is strategic to Zimbabwe as it provides food security and is a staple for the majority of our population.

It is also critical to Zimbabwe’s economy as it can be beneficiated into a number of other products that are used as inputs in the manufacturing sector, including starch, grits, and glucose, thus helping the country to reindustrialise, and grow its economy.

Some maize derivatives, such as cooking oil and stock feed, besides their domestic use, are exported to earn the country vital foreign currency.

Moreover, starch is used as a raw material in the pharmaceuticals industry for coating, binding and filling in of capsules.

In the textiles industry, it can be used to provide the necessary stiffness, and adding weight to clothes.

Furthermore, starch is used in paper-making, and in the manufacture of such products as ice-cream cones. Starch, in the form of grits, is reduced to produce glucose that is used in the production of such products as beer, mahewu, and lactic acid.

Increased maize output, at the “correct” prices, thus offers an opportunity for such companies as the GMB, National Foods, Nestle Zimbabwe and Delta Beverages, among others, to increase production. It would also be possible to resuscitate such companies as Food and Industrial, which are no longer functional and are relying on imports.

In this way, the recovery of the agricultural sector would help the whole economy to thrive and create jobs.

It is my sincere hope that with collective effort and support for Command Agriculture, the Presidential Inputs Scheme, and other related programmes, we can achieve food security and recover our economy.

I, therefore, urge players in the maize value chain and other value chains to uphold good corporate governance, and work towards a collective and shared vision of transforming Zimbabwe into a fully industrialised economy.

This is an achievable goal, and not a mere chimera.

Lessons learnt

Firstly, an important lesson emerging from the 2016/2017 summer agricultural season is that we need to maximise on the distribution of inputs for the 2017/2018 season so that by August 2017, all farmers participating in Command Agriculture, Presidential Inputs Scheme and any other organised support programme get their inputs in a timely manner.

Secondly, we need to assist our farmers to access mechanisation and tillage services catering for the different farmer requirements. There is also need for combine harvesters, dryers and storage facilities to manage post-harvest losses. It has to be adequately planned and implemented like yesterday.

Thirdly, it is critical to maximise on the planting window in relation to rainfall patterns for future summer cropping seasons. Therefore, we urgently need a focused mechanisation strategy to speed up farm operations, like planting.

Fourthly, if we are to achieve the targets we have set for ourselves, there is urgent need for proper application of fertilisers and herbicides.

This requires an efficient, sufficiently mobile and well-motivated extension service with up-to-date competences.

Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was speaking at the Maize Value Chain Conference in Harare on April 21, 2017

Source :

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