Thursday, December 22, 2016

Successful Farming With Available Resources
December 22, 2016
By Charles Dhewa —

Receiving enough rainfall is not a guarantee for successful farming. That is why over the past decades, farmers in areas that do not receive sufficient rainfall, like Zhombe, have achieved the same if not better yields than those in some high rainfall areas.

Creatively combining available resources into a viable agricultural enterprise remains a critical challenge for many farmers.

Here is a real life scenario: A farmer in Macheke, Mr Chibvuri, is looking for a manager to be in charge of his expanding portfolio of agricultural activities. Currently he has a mixed crop and livestock operation comprising: 60 pigs, 30 cattle and 30 goats. He is also trying to get into indigenous chickens starting off with 60 chickens.

The farmer also grows maize, mainly for feeding pigs. He also wants to engage in sugar beans production. Having acquired a pump and water tanks, his other ambition is to get into horticulture.

On the horticulture side, the farmer is thinking of potatoes, tomatoes, onion and others in line with market demand. He has also set up three fish ponds with plans to get into fishery. With advice from some people, he also dreams of getting into apiculture. For a long time these activities were managed by his wife and semi-skilled agricultural workers.

Where is Mr Chibvuri going to get a farm manager with a balanced mix of skills, attitude, temperament and knowledge to create a viable agribusiness from combining all his resources?

The manager must be willing to grow with the business to a point where the business pays his own salary and still remain viable. S/he must not expect to be paid more before generating any income. S/he must be able to drive a tractor since Mr Chibvuri recently acquired one.

Most people trained at universities and agricultural colleges will not be able to fit this bill. Since the farmer is still formerly employed, some of the people he has been hiring were paid from his own salary.

How can farmers unlock value from available resources?

The above scenario describes many farmers in Zimbabwe at the moment. How can they unlock value from assets worth more than $250 000 that are seating on the farm? This is a major question confronting many farmers. It is no longer just about ability to produce maize or raise livestock, which almost everyone can do.

Creatively combining available resources with the market in mind remains a huge challenge for the majority of smallholder and commercial farmers. How can farmers see and seize emerging opportunities in the agriculture ecosystem when they do not know what other farmers targeting the same market are producing and when?

This is where big data embedded in local institutions can do the trick. Obtaining information about market prices without a sense of volumes and surplus from competing producers is inadequate.

Why are interventions by development organisations not riding on existing momentum?

Instead of building the capacity of farmers like Mr Chibvuri to creatively use available resources and become role models among other farmers, interventions by development actors seem to be weakening the capacity of local farmers.

World Food Programme recently announced that at least 4,1 million Zimbabweans urgently need food aid. This is ironic given millions of US dollars that have been injected into smallholder agriculture by development agencies over the past two years.

By now we should be seeing a huge positive impact from the Livelihood Food Security Programme (LFSP), Amalima, ENSURE, INSPIRE and other initiatives that are currently going on with the full participation of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other international agencies.

Zimbabwe is the only African country where FAO has taken over the role of Government departments in the agriculture sector. Rather than building the capacity of local institutions to build resilient agricultural systems, FAO is working with NGOs and a few selected financial institutions.

In Rwanda, FAO and other development partners follow behind the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources. In Mauritius, every development partner interested in putting resources into agriculture first looks at the government template which stipulates areas of need so that there is no duplication of effort.

In Zimbabwe, agriculture has become a battleground for development organisations with the Government playing a peripheral role. Where local institutions are invited to respond to calls for agricultural proposals, they are made to compete with international NGOs that have huge fundraising offices in the developed world.

As a result, in spite of their wealthy of knowledge about the local context, Community Based Organisations (CBOs) do not get the funding. All the resources go to the FAO and NGOs. Zimbabwean agriculture can only improve when well-intentioned donors conduct thorough needs assessments through which they also identify local institutions for direct funding.

That will ensure sustainable value for money. Such an approach will also ultimately phase out the current funding mechanism which is more like a revolving aid-game.

Bringing the local private sector into the loop

The majority of local private sector players such as processors, buyers, agro-dealers and financial institutions have become fed up with the dominant role of international development agencies in the agriculture sector.

Besides promoting a free-lunch syndrome, many interventions by development agencies are wasting a lot of money on projects that could be better delivered by local institutions.

Farmers like Mr Chibvuri would certainly get more value from working with local private sector players. While development agencies are supposed to help vulnerable farming households, they end up perpetuating poverty by dismantling the local socio-economic fabric where the rich and poor have devised ways of supporting each other for generations.

The way agriculture is currently funded by development partners creates a subsidised artificial economy in rural areas with much of the money going back to urban areas.

These subsidised activities do not foster sustainability which is part of the terminology in most development agents. International organisations also weaken sustainability by enticing skilled locals with large salaries. Local Government and permanent local institutions end up losing important skills that can ensure sustainability.

How can we achieve collective impact in the agriculture sector?

Given the fragmented nature of interventions in the agriculture sector, it is difficult to get the big picture in terms of achievements. If that was to happen, it would result in proper alignment of resources resulting in better measurement of impact.

At the moment, it is not possible to get a holistic idea of the collective impact of LFSP, Amalima, ENSURE, INSPIRE and many other initiatives that have been introduced in the agriculture sector over the past few years.

Once in a while we get isolated case studies and stories of change at an individual farmer level. However, that does not give a complete picture. It does not help to rehabilitate irrigation schemes when the other pieces of the agricultural puzzle are missing. For instance, the market constitutes more than 40 percent of the total agricultural big picture.

We need knowledge and governance systems that connect activities occurring at the community level with the larger national picture. That is how long term sustainability can be achieved in the agriculture sector.

 Charles Dhewa is a proactive knowledge management specialist and chief executive officer of Knowledge Transfer Africa (Pvt) ( whose flagship eMKambo ( has a presence in more than 20 agricultural markets in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on: ; Mobile: +263 774 430 309 / 772 137 717/ 712 737 430.

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