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Conservation: Key to sustainable agriculture

Conservation is an everyday word that not many people attach importance to.

BY BRUCE GEMMILL

When used in the agricultural context, it is a word of very significant importance. It is the essential visual difference between commercial and subsistence agriculture.

Property rights and conservation go hand in hand; no property rights, no conservation.

Conservation in agriculture has many different facets. Physical conservation works such as contours, waterways, crest roads, are built to prevent sheet and gully erosion. Maintaining organic matter in the soil profile and on the surface will increase fertility and water-holding capacity.

Leaving crop waste to rot down and practising minimal tillage will build organic matter. Rotating restorative crops with exhaustive crops is critical.
Maintaining soil PH as near 6,5 as possible is also important. Protection of grazing areas, indigenous trees and wildlife areas is also of great importance. Efficient water storage and use is another very important aspect of conservation.

Good conservation is always a prerequisite to achieving high yields from both crop and animal enterprises.

Poor farming practices, climate change and increasing populations in many parts of the world are driving these areas towards chronic food shortage; including Zimbabwe.

It is predicted that sub-Saharan Africa’s population will increase by 250 000 000 by 2030. Where will the food come from to feed these extra mouths?
Land reform has proven that subsistence agriculture cannot feed Zimbabwe.

The revival of commercial agriculture is the only way chronic food shortage can be avoided. Worldwide food is getting more expensive to produce.

It is obvious that in the absence of subsidies, this cost increase is passed onto the consumer.

Food producing countries will only export after domestic needs are fulfilled.

Relying on food aid and handouts to feed the nation is highly precarious and degrading, because we are offering ourselves as a beggar nation, unable to feed ourselves.

Before land reform we only needed to import food that could not be produced in our subtropical climate or after a serious drought. We should regain that status as soon as possible.

To get our agriculture commercialised will be a huge operation both physically and financially, but if we are to protect our population from the ravages and suffering inflicted by chronic food shortages and the accompanying high prices, then we need to start the change-over as a matter of urgency.
A high yielding stable agriculture is the only barrier we can build to protect our people from chronic food shortages.
Very few of the seized commercial farms are producing anywhere near their potential, indeed many are in a state of extreme dereliction.
This was not the intention of land reform, but it is the result. I do not intend straying into the political arena, except to say the threat of chronic food shortage is above partisan politics. Clearly Zimbabwe is faced with a massive problem that must be resolved.
Bruce Gemmill is a former commercial farmer.

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