Friday, June 15, 2007

(HERALD) ‘Small-scale farmers hold key to Zim’s food security’

‘Small-scale farmers hold key to Zim’s food security’
By Fortious Nhambura

SINCE the turn of the century, Zimbabwe has been hit by recurrent droughts that have had a negative impact on the agricultural sector. The droughts have also had an adverse effect on Zimbabwe’s food reserves and food security. These climatic conditions together with lack of appropriate machinery and appropriate technology to boost agriculture production have led to increased calls for farm mechanisation.

The government has responded to these calls by creating a Ministry of Agricultural Engineering and Mechanisation.

However, as Zimbabwe makes strides to boost agricultural production it should not ignore the smallholder farmer, who throughout history, has contributed to the bulk of grain delivered to the Grain Marketing Board.

To increase the participation of the smallholder farmers, whose land does not require huge machinery, the Government has — through the central bank — secured thousands of ox-drawn carts, ploughs and cultivators that will soon be distributed to all the country’s 57 districts to enable farmers to participate in the agrarian revolution.

RBZ Governor Dr Gideon Gono said farming implements would be distributed to deserving peasant farmers in the communal areas.

"communal farmers contribute to the country’s national food security so we decided to recognise them improve the traditional way of provision of these implements."

The central bank has placed an order for 500 ox-drawn ploughs and carts, and wheelbarrows for use by smallholder farmers, a move analysts welcomed saying it would bring the best out of the country’s communal and resettled farmers.

Analysts were agreed that delays suffered by small-holder farmers in land preparation were largely to blame for the fall in grain production.

Zimbabwe would have no problem regaining its breadbasket status if the farmers were given appropriate machinery, the analysts said.

They said Zimbabwe need not reinvent the wheel but look back to the successes recorded soon after independence when the smallholder farmer was provided with enough resources and inputs, transforming the sector into the biggest producer of maize and small grains.

"This resulted in Zimbabwe not only becoming the chair of the region’s food security programme, but also the leading exporter of agricultural products in Southern Africa," said one analyst.

As Zimbabwe mechanises its agricultural sector, it is imperative to encompass all agricultural sectors including the peasant farmer. Only when every communal and peasant farmer produces for the nation rather than for household consumption we begin to talk about being self-sufficient in food.

Soyabean taskforce co-ordinator Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki is on record as citing the lack of machinery and labour for the crop’s poor harvests.

"It is only through the introduction of appropriate technology for the smallholder farmer that the country can increase as well as safeguard its season’s production. I am grateful that the government has realised the importance of the sector," he said.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Wilson Nyabonda concurred with Prof Mpepereki saying the national mechanisation programme would be a farce if it excluded communal and resettled farmers who produced the bulk of grain consumed in the country.

"The only way that Zimbabwe can stimulate production among all the sectors of agriculture is to enhance the communal resettled farmers in Zimbabwe," he said.

He said lack of appropriate technology and machinery had cost soyabean farmers dearly as part of their crop was now shattering or germinating while still in the fields.

With adequate inputs and equipment farmers can turn lean years into bumper harvests.

A case in point was Malawi which had transformed itself from a net importer of grain into a net exporter.

Bursting at the seams with maize surplus following a two-year bumper harvest that was premised on re-focusing its agriculture on the smallholder farmers who were given seed and fertilizer and basic farming utensils such as hoes and ploughs.

Malawi requires 2 million tonnes of maize to feed its people but achieved a 500 000-tonne surplus, which is now earmarked for export.

Evidence from the late eighties and early nineties shows a marked increase in the production of grain, beef and other crops in Zimbabwe. These were heavily buttressed by good production from small-scale and peasant farmers.

It is with this in mind that the Government and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe have embraced small-scale, resettled farmers and communal farmers.

The small-scale farming implements will no doubt enhance smallholder farmers’ production.

Economic analysts said most communal farmers were eager to engage in productive farming but were often put off by the high cost of inputs and machinery.

They said no matter what incentives Government proffers to increase the production of maize and other small grains the levels would remain suppressed if the smallholder farmers remained sidelined from agricultural development.

Mechanisation will provide room for commercial farmers to devote more time on foreign currency-generating crops while peasant farmer’s concentrate on grain production for national consumption.

Zimbabwe needs 1,8 million tonnes for local consumption but production has drastically fallen over the years.

Last year only 563 000 tonnes of maize — the country’s staple food — was delivered to the GMB against a target of 820 000 tonnes. This year, Government is expected to import more than 400 000 tonnes of maize to make up for the shortfall.

As the country struggles to come to terms with the harsh realities brought about by a rapidly changing world climate, Government should focus at increasing the participation of smallholder producers in grain production.

This is the only way Government can assist noble programmes like Operation Maguta.

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