The Sunday News
AGRICULTURE forms one of the most important pillars of Zimbabwe’s economy. Its revival and full operationalisation presents a lot of economic opportunities in terms of employment creation in agro processing sectors and general food security for the country’s communities.
Agriculture also presents quick-win investment opportunities for realisation of food surpluses that will see the re-emergence of Zimbabwe as a major contributor to regional food security in Southern Africa.
Growth in agriculture is premised on performance of cash crops such as tobacco, cotton, sugar cane, coffee, tea and soya beans which crops are no longer giving the country as much money as they used to due to poor quality and or reluctance by farmers to produce them because they lack the motivation. Increased agricultural production and agro-processing has potential to generate the much needed but scarce foreign exchange.
But does the Government acknowledge agriculture as a low hanging investment that is inclusive to many and central to the revival of the country’s economy that had been weighed down by a combination of factors including but not limited to sanctions.
These and other questions central to agriculture and economic revival are answered in an interview that our Features Editor, Vincent Gono (VG) had with one of the two Deputy Ministers of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Hon Douglas Karoro (DK).
Below are excerpts of the interview.
VG: Does the Government realise how integral agriculture is to the revival of the country’s economy?
DK: Government fully recognises and appreciates how agriculture is integral to the revival of the economy and is working very hard and putting in place measures for further stimulation of agricultural production with a thrust for boosting farm productivity and farm yields.
VG: What is it doing as part of its quick-win initiatives to ensure the country’s food security is guaranteed?
D.K: Government rolled out the following initiatives to ensure that the country’s food security is guaranteed.
– Increased investment (partnerships and budgetary provisions) in productivity drivers such as irrigation, mechanisation, agriculture inputs and agriculture services.
– Facilitating market development instruments such as commodity exchanges and contract farming arrangements; and instruments of environmental protection, conservation and restoration.
– Engaging in Special Agriculture Production programmes dubbed Command Agriculture in maize, soya beans, wheat and livestock.
VG: We recently experienced an increase in bread prices caused by flour imports. Why is the country not producing enough wheat when it has adequate land and favourable climatic conditions for growth of wheat?
DK: The climate is conducive but the country does not have the comparative advantage to produce both hard and soft wheat efficiently. There is potential to attain self-sufficiency in wheat production, however, it’s a wholly irrigated crop that does well with increased investments in mechanisation of the production and harvesting processes. Most of our current and potential wheat farmers lack the requisite capital to produce enough for the country.
VG: Do you feel those that benefitted from the land reform are doing enough to produce for the nation or the country made a mistake by giving land to poorly skilled and less resourced people who depend on Government subsidies to produce?
DK: Farming is a specialised engagement that rewards good returns on investment if all the necessary conditions and capital are deployed. Beneficiaries of the land reform are not fully utilising land on account of lack of financial resources. We acknowledge the financing challenges which face the new farmer hindering full productive utilisation of land, leaving much farmland idle, and unaccounted for on the part of the farmer.
The under-utilisation of land is guaranteed to continue unabated, in the absence of decisive intervention support, that way perpetuating food insecurity and over dependency on imports.
To untangle this risk, Government intervened with the introduction of the Special Agriculture Production Programme, embracing a number of crops and livestock. Under this model, the individual farmer remains responsible and accountable for honouring repayment of obligations arising under extended financing facilities.
The Government envisages greater involvement of the domestic financial system in underpinning the financing of agriculture. This entails greater involvement and participation of the private sector with regards to financing.
The new farmer would need to be incubated and learn the ropes, necessitating adoption of collaborative financing models by Government and the private sector.
VG: Why are we not seeing the use it or lose it in action… We still see large tracts of land lying idle while some of the land that used to be prime farming land has developed into forests. What is the Government doing to ensure all land is put to good use?
DK: As alluded before, land owners are facing challenges to fully utilise the land, however, Government has rolled out support initiatives with a view to improve production and productivity on farmland. However, heavy reliance on Government of the Special Agriculture Production Programme will be gradually reduced as initiatives to enhance private sector support gather momentum, that way we will be overcoming potential development of voids in capacitating production by the farmer.
VG: Why is the Government through Arda not utilising some of the land to produce for the country?
DK: Currently, Arda is operating in 21 Estates with a combined total potential arable land of 98,185ha and is expected to play a leading role in the production of strategic crops that include maize, wheat, soya beans and potatoes to ensure food security in the country. Arda is spearheading partnerships with investors and private sector to utilise more arable land.
VG: Soya beans, coffee, cotton, tobacco were previously produced at large scale what happened to those cash crops that used to earn the country foreign currency… Is there a deliberate plan to revive their production?
DK: Deliberate interventions by Government in soya beans, cotton and tobacco production has yielded positive results that witnessed tobacco production reaching unprecedented levels of 252 million kilogrammes in the 2017/2018 production season. Similarly, efforts are underway to resuscitate the tea and coffee plantations in Manicaland (Chipinge, Chimanimani and Honde Valley).
VG: The implements from Belarus… What has materialised so far?
DK: Processes are at an advanced stage and Government is expecting the implements as soon as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) pays the initial payment for the supplier to start delivering.
VG: In terms of irrigation development how far have we gone as a country?
DK: Government has identified the irrigation potential to be at 2 million hectares. Furthermore, a national irrigation master plan was developed to cover the short, medium and long term. To date 300 000 has have been identified and should be fully developed by 2030. Government is also implementing the 200 hectares per district irrigation development project.
The following initiatives are being pursued to realise the country’s irrigation potential.
– Assisting A2 farmers with installation of 80 centre pivots covering 2900ha
– Rehabilitating and expanding Nyakomba Irrigation using funding from the Japanese Government through JICA.
– Revitalising smallholder irrigation schemes in Manicaland, Matabeleland South, Masvingo and Midlands Provinces using Funds from IFAD and OFID
– Rehabilitating 34 irrigation schemes through FAO under the SIP programme being co-financed by EU and SDC.
– Developing 2500ha of irrigation in Beitbridge District, Matabeleland South Province using Zhove Dam waters. The Project is being financed by Kuwait Fund and Abu Dhabi. Implementation has just started.