AGRICULTURAL research stations, key components of the country’s agro-industry, are collapsing owing to the continued farm evictions prompting donors to hold back funding, the Zimbabwe Indepe
ndent heard this week.
Zimbabwe had some of the most advanced research institutes on the continent, especially in grain seed development and improvement of cattle breeds. The research stations in all the country’s provinces were funded by commercial farmers through levies while international donors provided equipment and expatriate expertise.
The Independent this week also heard that government-owned research institutions were facing collapse due to poor funding.
Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) president Doug Taylor-Freeme at the farmers’ congress last week said land invasions had seriously jeopardised the research programmes, especially in seed multiplication, cattle breeding schemes, and skills training throughout the country.
“Research has become an area of concern,” Taylor-Freeme said.
“In the past growers used to be levied and supported by donors in funding of extensive and regionally recognised research programmes.”
Officials at the Agricultural Research Trust (ART Farm) said they have stopped all off-station trials for the new seed varieties since the farmers who used to grow the seeds have been evicted.
“Seed research activities are now restricted to only three stations,” one of the officials said.
“Farmers who used to pay levies to sponsor the trials are no longer contributing or involved in the farming business and as a result the new varieties are no longer being tested in the different regional climatic conditions in the country. The new farmers have not yet attained the status to meet the stringent measures needed in seed production.”
The stations that are still functional are ART Farm sponsored by the CFU, Rattray Arnold in Enterprise, and Kadoma research stations. The last two are both sponsored by SeedCo.
Taylor-Freeme said the Commercial Cotton Growers’ Association had been managing on-farm trials for the Cotton Research Institute until last year when they were forced to close down.
“The association was forced to shut down its research section as many of the on-farm trial sites had been taken over in the land invasions and funding is becoming scarce due to the reduced numbers of cotton growers,” he said.
Research experts said only Natbrew has managed to maintain its on-farm research trials for barley.
“Grain, cereal and oil seeds research activities lost over 80% of the on-farm sites thereby restricting trials mainly to the research stations,” one of the experts said.
He said government-sponsored research stations were now almost defunct because of budgetary constrains due to donors holding back funding.
He said the decline of research activities in the country could result in the loss of the market share which Zimbabwe use to enjoy in the region and the world.
“Zimbabwean agricultural produce had successfully penetrated international markets but the new farmers are not likely to uphold the stringent standards demanded internationally,” he said.