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Agric sector requires serious rethink

With Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector still on a downward trend over a decade after the implementation of the land reform programme, one cannot be blamed for wondering if there is still any hope for the sector’s revival.

Report by Chipo Masara

A farmer shows off her wilting maize crop . . . Drought is a major factor that has been affecting Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector — File photo

Agriculture was Zimbabwe’s economic backbone, contributing up to 40% of its exports.

This scenario is nothing but a fading memory now.

Neighbouring Zambia — who used to rely on Zimbabwe for agricultural supplies — in an ironic turn of events, today shows the latter how to do it.

In 2011, Zambian farmers produced a surplus of 1,6 million tonnes of maize, the bulk of which was exported to Zimbabwe.

This turnaround in Zambia’s fortunes is mostly owed to the then president Rupiah Banda’s adoption of new improved agricultural policies.

Zimbabwe, which used to be the breadbasket of the whole of the southern African region, is now nothing but a “basket case”, highly dependent on hand-outs to alleviate food insecurity.

Unicef recently warned that 3,5 million children in the country would require emergency rations, while a recent report by the World Food Programme (FAO) says approximately two million Zimbabweans are currently in dire need of food.

Looking at such statistics of a nation that used to not only ably feed its own people, but other nations too, is deeply worrying.

One cannot help but wonder just where it is that Zimbabwe went wrong.

Many have blamed the agricultural sector’s collapse on the much publicised land re-distribution exercise. The government called the move a correction of the colonial imbalances.

But 12 years down the line, agriculture continues to go down, with the bulk of the “new farmers” claiming farming has become unproductive. This is shocking considering that the same pieces of land yielded enough just 12 years ago.

Tobacco is the only crop currently thriving in the country. This might be because the crop thrives even in the poorest of soils

Farm invasions lowered productivity on farms

It seems the “new farmers”, in all their excitement of having finally managed to get a piece of the national pie, forgot the fact that farming , like any other business, has certain rules that have to be adhered to if it has to be productive.

As it turned out, most new farmers either had no passion for farming or had absolutely no clue what sustainable farming is all about. This is evidenced by the present state of most of the farm areas.

Bad farming practices like slash and burn, vandalism to farm infrastructure and the destruction of biodiversity has seen most allocated land yielding less and less each year, with some areas having since been abandoned.

Changing weather patterns also to blame

Recurring droughts for instance, have been a thorn in the flesh for most farmers, especially as many do not have irrigation facilities.

The Meteorological Services Department predicted yet another drought for the October 2012 to March 2013 farming season.

The erratic rainfall patterns that are being credited to the so-called climate change phenomenon have not made the situation any better either. As a result, most farmers have often been left at wits’ end as to when exactly to plant their crops, which poses a major problem.

The issue of insufficient inputs for the farmers, the majority of whom are still at a small-scale level, has been a contentious one. There have been reports of inputs such as seeds and fertilisers coming through late, way past the “right” planting period.

The introduction of more drought-resistant crop types has been suggested as one solution. An investment in irrigation facilities is another.

The environment and its place in agriculture is however an area I feel has up to date not received the attention and seriousness that it deserves.
I believe that has been a major mistake!

The kind of care the land receives spells out in a major way what one can expect to get from it. Overburdened and undernourished soil cannot be expected to yield much.

Although there has been a call for farmers to try conservation agriculture, which has been proven to be more sustainable, many still seem reluctant to switch and have stuck to the same old conventional farming methods that have failed to yield much.

Until such a time when the government is willing to accept that the current agricultural practices are clearly not working and that there’s need to turn the sector around, agriculture will continue to go down!

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