The 106th edition of the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show is the major economic activity this week where the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society (ZAS), coordinates and registers tens of thousands of farmers, agriculture dealers and financiers among key stakeholders in the sector to showcase their products.
This year the society argues there were 77 693 entries on exhibition space, an increase from 70 466 entries registered during the same period last year. Given the 2014 figure of 70 263 entries, it means the number of entries is increasing, giving credence to the land reform programme.
However, from the manner the show has been organised, where there is a strong focus off farmers and stakeholders in the farming sector, but concentrating on the exhibition side, we feel the event is slowly drifting out of target. We are of the opine that for the event to remain relevant and help the agriculture sector become robust and a major pillar towards helping turning around the economy, there should be a mind-set shift at ZAS and indeed other show societies countrywide.
Lest people misconstrue what we are saying to mean undermining ZAS, our suggestion is that the society should continuously innovate and come up with products that provide solutions to the needs of our new breed of farmers ushered in by our successful land reform programme.
For starters, we do not want an agricultural exhibition where farmers, especially smallholder farmers come to exhibit and go home empty-handed. It is against this backdrop that we, and obviously our dear farmers, want an agriculture exhibition that links them with local and foreign markets for their products. After profiling categories of farmers and the produce they specialise in, the societies, we believe, should go into the world and find markets for our farmers so that come the next addition, there will be hundreds of foreign buyers going straight to enter into contracts with our farmers.
We know some of our farmers are still small and the society should help organise them and make synergies that will help them cut better and lucrative deals that benefit them as clusters or communities.
We are not saying their current efforts are not yielding results, but we are of the opinion that a coordinated approach by farmers, facilitated by some agriculture show societies might be beneficial to both parties in the long run. There are countries, especially island states and those in deserts that demand crops grown under natural conditions and dealers from such areas should be major players invited to attend our shows.
The majority of our new farmers have not been supported by local and foreign banks that have been insisting on tittle deeds from farms as basis for lending capital. The banks have for long been declining the bankability of the 99 year leases, even those modified as collateral. This has seen the majority of our farmers using very old and obsolete machinery and implements that are fuel inefficient and not reliable due to constant breakdowns that demand more money to buy spares. We are suggesting that in the future, agriculture shows should mobilise hundreds of agriculture equipment dealers dotted around the region and beyond to come and interface with local farmers and see how they can replenish their fleets. Yes, in the meantime there are local dealers, but their offers are beyond many local farmers.
We also want more research to be commissioned courtesy of the show societies that help invent home-grown farm implements that address the current challenges farmers face. Farming models introduced under A1 and A2 demand that farmers are assisted to secure equipment that cater for the size of the farms they have. It does not make economic sense for a six-hectare plot holder to buy a 75 horse power tractor, most of them old and inefficient because that equipment will cause a lot trouble. Smaller tractors will be ideal for such farmers and some organisations should facilitate that such equipment is made available. Besides funding, lack of mechanised equipment, as most of our farmers face demands that we continuously sponsor research and development into new farming methods and seed varieties.
The population is growing, cost of doing business continue to surge northwards and therefore we encourage show societies to lead in this critical area. We need crop varieties that are drought and disease tolerant so that farmers do not expend much of their resources on irrigation equipment and pesticides.
Reduction in the amount money needed to control weeds and effects of drought on crops means the farmers’ ability to increase on their hacterage and profitability. Therefore, as we move into the future, it is our hope that show societies will continue to innovate, introduce more products and make the event a meeting place for minds yearning to improve the country’s agriculture sector and empower our farmers, majority of them from rural areas.
Yes, lucky farmers win tractors and other farming implements, but that alone should not be the reason why they come to exhibit. Every farmer should smile on the way home after harnessing a skill, a deal or a prize.