Thursday, January 05, 2017

Zimbabwe Government-driven Farming Scheme Pays Off
January 4, 2017

Farm workers inspect a healthy crop grown under the Command Agriculture initiative in Bindura last week

Sydney Kawadza
Senior Features Writer
Zimbabwe Herald

The rains Zimbabwe and the rest of southern Africa is receiving have brought huge excitement among farmers with many predicting a bumper crop harvest in the 2016-17 season.

Coming from two difficult seasons, coupled with the worst ever El Nino-induced drought in years, the rains have brought relief to farmers.

National food insecurity has risen from about 12 percent in 2011 to 42 percent last year and according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Report four million people need food aid because of drought.

The best way, however, to fight the deliberating effects of such droughts is to treat agriculture as a business and take farmers as entrepreneurs.

Whenever discussion on entrepreneurship crops up, the talking point becomes that of start-up capital, making many entrepreneurs and farmers fail in their endeavours. Farmers, as entrepreneurs need start-up capital in the form of money to buy crop inputs and it is this finance that had been hard to come by.

It took Government intervention through Command Agriculture to resolve the challenge of capital facing the majority of farmers. Instead of providing money or cash, the Government mobilised resources and ensured farmers accessed maize seed, chemicals, fertiliser, fuel and tillage services. This essentially removed the burden on farmers to scrounge for money to buy inputs. It left the farmers to concentrate of full utilisation of the land given that they had been provided with the inputs and that the rains were on their side.

There is no doubt at all that Command Agriculture has brought back smiles on farmers’ faces and that it is the kind of empowerment that should revolutionise agriculture by turning the vast tracts of land allocated to farmers into greenbelts of crops.

The programme is targeting to produce two million tonnes of maize from 400 000 hectares of land. It has been said many times before that agriculture is the backbone of the economy and that when agriculture catches a cold the whole economy sneezes.

This is why the Government, realising the importance of agriculture, introduced Command Agriculture so that chances of the economy sneezing are greatly reduced. With Command Agriculture, the Government has ensured that agriculture does not catch a cold and that it becomes the catalyst for the revival of other industries that depend on it.

It is unthinkable that farmers would fail to achieve the five tonnes per hectare expected yield given that all the necessary inputs were extended to them. Indeed, it can’t.

The Government has, through Command Agriculture, shamed the prophets of doom, whose preoccupation was to see Zimbabwe’s agriculture failing.

Government would continue working and improving the programme to ensure maximum utilisation of land and adequate supplies of food.

The farmers would have their irrigation rehabilitated and get equipment over the years.

Government would also establish drying facilities in all provinces to ensure crops are harvested early to enable continuous production on the land. The programme will also promote value addition.

This is a special programme on contract maize production to guarantee food security.

The programme, superintended by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who chairs the Cabinet Committee on Food Security and Nutrition, is a collective Cabinet effort with the Ministries of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development and Environment, Water and Climate leading the implementation.

It is hoped that the combination of good rains and the commitment by Government to lead maize production, raises optimism that Zimbabwe would overcome the food insecurity challenges.

Zimbabwe needs at least 1,8 millions of maize for both human and livestock while 500 000 tonnes should always be in the Strategic Grain Reserves at any given time.

The objective of Command Agriculture is to ensure food security for the development of Zimbabwe. Even in Rhodesia, incentives for farmers who produced significantly, were available under the Maize Act. Farmers were rewarded, firstly, for producing enough for national food security and, secondly, for export markets.

The Government, then, understood the importance of food security as an important component of economic development.

The incentives, that the colonial Government understood, were a motivating factor as farmers fed others who were involved in such sectors as mining.

Zimbabweans have always been producing their own food even in the pre-colonial days.

Success, economically, depends on food security hence the move to push for the Command Agriculture initiative.

The Zimbabwe story since the Agrarian Revolution of the late 1990s and early 2000 has been of farmers struggling to ensure production on their farms, largely due to funding constraints.

It is understood the world over that agrarian revolutions, besides correcting the land imbalances caused by colonialism, has the main agenda of diversifying and maximising food production.

It is no wonder that Zimbabwe engaged in the Fast Track Land Reform Programme that benefited 300 000 people.

What Zimbabwe went through during the agrarian revolution can be traced back to China, Japan, India, the Americas and a host of other countries.

Farmers, especially the passionate, dedicated and focused ones, said their main challenge was centred on input provision.

Government, on the other hand, continues to call on farmers to take agriculture as a business with President Mugabe urging farmers to ensure productivity on the farms.

Illegal economic sanctions were also hurting agriculture as fertiliser firms were starved of foreign currency. Companies such as Sable Chemicals were put on the illegal sanctions list.

A responsive and responsible Government does the right thing — give the people fishing rods and not the fish.

The inputs availed to the farmers are the fishing rods that the farmers needed. We expected them to start producing to attain food self-reliance.

VP Mnangagwa recently said Zimbabwean firms were behind the programme as they have become part of the solutions to Zimbabwe’s challenges.

Offers from the firms to support the programme reached nearly $1 billion when $515 million for 400 000 hectares of maize was required.

It is also commendable that local firms answered Government calls to fund the programme.

Kudos are in order to the National Social Security Authority and Sakunda who jumped at the opportunity of assisting Government in its time of need.

The banking sector, which also provided low interest rates deserve special recognition.

Special mention also goes to stakeholders in the agricultural industry, including millers, seed houses, fertiliser companies, chemical suppliers, farmers unions and ministries for working together towards the successful implementation of Command Agriculture.

That Government has come out clearly indicating that farmers who benefited from the programme would be audited should send warning signals to potential abusers of the inputs.

And it is very clear that this programme is not politically motivated.

Zimbabwe need serious farmers to produce so that it returns to being a net exporter of food.

VP Mnangagwa has called on the farmers to work hard and the message is still the same because Zimbabwe needs food.

It’s true; “Command farming is a command,” and according to the VP, farmers should follow instructions so that they produce to the maximum.

The programme is voluntary but farmers should also understand that once they committed to the scheme they should adhere to the expectations.

That is, produce, produce and produce.

We do not expect to be importing maize from our regional counterparts after successfully implementing Command Agriculture.

Zimbabwe has always been the best and there is nothing to deter the farmers, recently empowered in the strongest sense, to make sure that the country retains its breadbasket status.


No comments: