Zimbabwe leads region’s bid to ensure food security

Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Limukani Ncube

PRESIDENT Mugabe has often reiterated that one of the major reasons why the liberation war was fought was to get back land that was stolen from the black people of Zimbabwe by colonialists.

And last week, speaking ahead of his 93rd birth day celebrations, the President said it was now up to the people who were given land to use it profitably  and ensure that the nation gets enough food. Going down memory lane, he said he believed he had done well to fulfil the wishes of departed nationalists like the late Vice-President, Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, who on his death bed, told President Mugabe to make sure that people get back their land.

“Yes, I would say we have continued to give land to the people and most of the land, which used to be in the hands of the settlers is now in the hands of our own people and what is there now is for us to ensure there won’t be any retrogression. That those we have given the land will keep it, use it, cultivate it properly and ensure that it’s made productive. So I would say (to Dr Nkomo) what you wanted me to do I think I have done and done well. And I think our objective earlier on which constituted our first grievance as we fought the struggle, that the people, land that is possessed by settlers must be repossessed by we, the indigenous and not just that, but that it should also be defended, protected and never be allowed once again to fall into the hands of the settlers. I think we have done that well,” he said.

After the successful Land Reform exercise at the turn of the new millennium — a major form of empowerment that neighbours like South Africa and Namibia are trying to find their own formula to follow — the Government did not then fold arms, with mere satisfaction of having transferred land back to its rightful owners. Instead, the President Mugabe-led Government went on to come up with various programmes meant to assist farmers realise their full potential.

Some of the Government programmes meant to capacitate farmers and ensure food security include Operation Taguta/Sisuthi which saw farmers in all provinces getting farming inputs between 2005 and 2006. In 2007 the Government introduced the Farm Mechanisation Scheme and in the years that followed, farmers got assistance from the Presidential Input Scheme where maize seed, fertiliser and farming equipment was distributed to commercial and communal farmers, some sourced from as far as Brazil.

Last year, Vice-President Emmerson Mngangagwa, who oversees the Agriculture ministry among others, launched the Command Agriculture Programme which aims to produce two million tonnes of maize on 400 000 hectares of land. Farmers who signed up for the scheme from the country’s 10 provinces have been given inputs, irrigation and mechanised equipment.

The programme is meant to ensure food self-sufficiency following the drought of the previous season. The programme has since been extended to cattle ranching as well, as the country seeks to grow its national herd and also empower people in areas that are only suitable for animal husbandry. Command Agriculture is also result-based, with those supported expected to deliver a certain tonnage. The scheme was initially targeted at 2 000 farmers, each producing at least 1 000 tonnes of maize on 200 hectares. Farmers work under supervision and will commit five tonnes per hector produce to Government as repayment for the inputs and equipment, a first in the region.

In addition, the Government announced recently that it will embark on another agricultural programme called Super Agriculture that will put swathes of idle land countrywide under crops. Vice-President Mngangagwa said the Government had secured funding for the winter wheat crop covering over 50 000 hectares, while working on a comprehensive transition mechanism from summer to winter cropping.

The Command Agriculture initiative is set to produce the desired results, despite nonstop rains in most parts of the country, as Government moved in quickly to source fertiliser from abroad to make sure that crops do not succumb to excessive water.

All the initiatives are being undertaken to make sure that the country quickly regains its footing economically, since it is agro-based.

The Ministry of Agriculture, in its website, says agriculture provides livelihoods to 80 percent of the population and accounts for 23 percent of formal employment. The sector contributes 14- 18,5 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and approximately 33 percent of foreign earnings. The future of Zimbabwe therefore lies in the development of a diversified, vibrant, competitive and efficient agricultural sector, hence the various initiatives by Government to make sure the sector kicks, also coming from a background of the El Nino-induced drought in the past season, which affected the entire Southern African region.

There are pointers on the ground that crop yields will be better this farming season than last year, with the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) leading the Command Agriculture initiative with the majority of its estates that have been cropped under the programme expected to yield an average of 10 tonnes per hectare. The agro-industrial company has 22 estates across the country measuring a total of 98 000 hectares.

Most of the estates, especially those with irrigation facilities, were used to promote the Command Agriculture. A visit by Sunday News to one of the estates, Arda Maphisa in Kezi where part of the crop is under Command Agriculture showed great progress. According to the estate manager Mr Alec Chinyai, 480 hectares is under Command Agriculture, with a total production target at 4 800 tonnes of maize grain.

“We are expecting to start harvesting at the end of March. We also have an additional 51 hectares under irrigated pasture. We are generally happy with the quality of the crop and we expect a bumper harvest. The Command Agriculture project has been successful,” said Mr Chinyai.

Official statistics show that 479 000 hectares have been put under maize under Command Agriculture, surpassing a Government target of 400 000 hectares. Arda chairman Mr Basil Nyabadza revealed that the summer crop was in excellent condition with the estates starting on a good irrigation programme and now finishing on a good rainfall programme. He said they were anticipating a good harvest on all their farms, something that will improve the country’s food security and spur the growth of other industries.

Since 2000, countries in Southern Africa have experienced an increase in the frequency, magnitude and impact of drought and flood events. The Southern African Development Community, an inter-governmental organisation, said recently that  climate change is expected to significantly affect the region and increase risks related to water resources. Furthermore, island states, such as Seychelles have their own unique set of problems — climate change has left Seychelles in danger of losing its protective reef barrier and a sea-level rise could threaten its survival.

“Social and economic under-development, disease epidemics and the impacts of HIV/ Aids exacerbate the situation, posing significant threat to the Sadc region and the ability to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development.  Governments and partners in the Sadc region need to implement disaster risk management to ensure community safety and protection of economic assets. Disaster risk management includes preparedness, mitigation, response, rehabilitation and recovery. It is multi-disciplinary, and involves the participation of a multitude of partners and stakeholders, ranging from national governments, non-government organisations, international cooperating partners, donors, civil society and the private sector.”

As part of the initiatives to come together and ensure food for all, Sadc has come up with a strategy to avert the spread of the fall armyworm, which has threatened a bumper harvest. The worm has already been detected and destroyed maize crops in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, sparking concerns of a potential food shortage. A conference was held in Harare recently aimed at finding a way to curb the spread of the pest.

The South Africa Agriculture department confirmed that it had positively identified the fall army worm in several provinces in South Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says the fall army worm outbreak, if uncurbed, could be  a blow to prospects of food recovery for southern Africa. Maize, a staple food in the region has been the most affected, as well as other cereals including sorghum, millet and wheat. Southern Africa is reeling from the effects of two consecutive years of El Nino-induced drought that affected over 40 million people, reduced food availability by 15 percent and caused a cereal deficit of nine million tonnes.

The FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri,  is on record as saying the situation was constantly evolving.

“The situation remains fluid. Preliminary reports indicate possible presence (of the pest) in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has positively identified the presence of the pest while the rest are expected to release test results soon,” he said.

In Zambia, the government has already spent US$3 million in an attempt to control the pest that has affected approximately 130 000 hectares of crops. However, the full extent of the damage in the country and other affected countries, is yet to be established. The pest which primarily spreads through wind dispersal and host plant products, is reported to be still active.

FAO says the fall armyworm is a relatively new pest from the Americas, whose presence on the African continent was first reported in Sao Tome and Principe around January 2016. The pest is known to cause extensive crop losses of up to 73 percent depending on existing conditions and is difficult to control with a single type of pesticide, especially when it has reached an advanced larval development stage.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made said the Government has started providing chemicals to farmers to curb the outbreak of the fall armyworm. The chemicals were being delivered to all provinces.

“As I speak, my ministry has put in place logistical requirements in the form of transport, human personnel and other administrative needs. The chemicals were sourced under the Command Agriculture Programme. Our focus is to improve food security in the country under the economic blue-print, Zim-Asset food and nutrition cluster,” he said.

The Government of Zimbabwe has spent a lot of resources in supporting farmers in recent years, and the same model has been used by neighbouring countries, with South Africa having programmes to empower women in farming, which is a  partnership between government and the private sector to empower 5 000 women-owned maize farming cooperatives in the next five years. The Department of Small Business Development and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (sefa) has also trained farmers on cooperative governance.  In Zambia, the Government launched a loan scheme to economically empower public service workers by giving them agricultural equipment.

Namibia also set in motion a programme to embrace climate smart agriculture. The ministries of agriculture and environment, together with various stakeholders, are working on exploring the concept of smart climate agriculture to tackle the effects of climate change, reports said. The government said since the launch of Comprehensive Conservation Agriculture Programme of Namibia (CCAP) in March 2015, the two ministries and various stakeholders are advancing the implementation of conservancy agriculture to ensure that Namibia becomes climate resilient, food secure and capable of alleviating poverty.

Angola, Mozambique and Botswana are also involved in various Government supported agricultural initiatives, all aimed at ensuring food security. Angola launched a new agricultural investment programme in 2011 to boost investment in the agricultural sector, supported by the Development bank of Angola. The World Bank will finance the Mozambican government programme known as “Sustenta” designed to encourage agricultural production by small farmers and is estimated to benefit over 700 000 people, media reports said.

Sadc reiterates that stable food availability, food access, nutritional value and safety are important aspects of food security.

Food availability means there is a consistent local supply of appropriate food types, either imported or produced locally. Food access means that the local population have the means to purchase or barter for the food they require for appropriate diet and nutrition. Available and accessible food must also be of sufficient nutritional value and be safe to consume if food security is to be attained. There should also be a stable supply and access to food for longer periods. This can be achieved with appropriate food production, handling and storage.

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