Zimbabwe’s agriculture is critical for a country that largely depends on it for employment, incomes and food security. Yet, for many years, the sector has struggled despite noble attempts by government and donors to support the sector. Food insecurity is largely aligned to poverty as shown by the ……The The Ministry of Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, has been given renewed impetus as it now has been bolstered by strong leadership, as it is the only Ministry with two depurty Ministers (livestock and crops). Given that it is the back bone of the nation, this is not surprising, but for the first time in its history has received prime attention from government. As Zimbabwe implements the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset), agriculture will obviously be on the radar for a variety of reasons, chief of which how it will respond to the added support. A simple question that arise, is whether agriculture will have enough resources to meet its objectives and agenda, in the life of ZimAsset?
Given that at one time, Zimbabwe held the food security portfolio of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), it is not short of intellectual capital, and its farmers are held in esteem across the different regimes be it small scale farming or large scale farming, as well as regimes in between. This context alone, is though not enough for agriculture to play its role, as more investments are required, chief of which is money. Yet, though farmers struggle with access to farming inputs, it has been the serious underinvestment in research and development that requires serious attention by government, private sector and development agencies.
The major mandate of the Agricultural Department of Research and Specialist is to provide research-based technologies, technical information for advisory services and products for supporting enhanced agricultural productivity and production of various crops and livestock. The technologies, knowledge and information are designed to (a) facilitate improved or increased productivity per unit area or per resource quantum, (b) protect Zimbabwe’s agriculture through provision of a dependable, effective, efficient and competitive regulatory service that prevents introduction of pests and diseases of quarantine importance and ensures availability of quality agricultural inputs and products, (c) deliver specialist services that promote sustainable agricultural and economic growth, (d) remove drudgery for farmers, speed up activities and save on time, physical and financial resources, (e) develop value addition technologies to primary products to increase farmers’ capacity to generate additional income, and (f) to facilitate the development of agriculture by commercializing research-based technologies. All these noble obectives will make sense, when the ministry has the capacity to deliver, with results being shown in improved production, better employment as well as matching incomes and living standards.
Let me turn to the Blue book (national budget) and its implications for agriculture and whether the sums provided meet the national priority. Up-to 2013, the Agricultural sector required US$2 billion on an annual basis?????. In the 2014, the Ministry made a request of US$490.5 million has been made however the Ministry was allocated only US$155.2 million, leaving a shortfall of 335.3 million. Regrettably the budget allocation has been, below the Maputo Declaration target of 10%. The table below shows that the component of the engine of agriculture which is research has been 0.5%; 0.45%; 0.32%; 1.3; and 3.00 (%) from 2010 to 2014 respectively. For 2014 alone the total allocation of US$4.9 million to research and extension department is even less that the allocation given to Manyuchi Dam of Masvingo (US$7 million).
Table 1: Budget allocations to the Ministry of Agriculture (2009-2014)
|Year||Total budget (US$)*109||Agric allocation(US$)||Agric growth||Agric research and extension allocation(US$)*106||Agric research as a percentage of Agric allocation|
Source: Decoded from the annual national budget.
Evidence from key stakeholders/parastatals in the agri-industry shows that they are highly financially constrained. Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA) and Cold Storage Company (CSC) did not receive anything. Yet, stories have emerged that these parastatals have struggled to pay their workers, and production is at its lowest. However, these parastatals hold significant resources in terms of land and water located in some of the prime areas. At the same time, they still retain a high level of institutional memory to the extent that they are the most of easiest to transform and make them profitable.
In 2014, agriculture has been projected to grow by 9%, mainly driven by growth in maize (62.8%), cotton (27.8%), soybeans (26.7%), and groundnuts (56.8%), among other crops. Given the funding gap, it may be difficult to achieve these projects, unless the private sector and development agencies also committed support resources in the 2014, rainfall season looks brilliant for many years, and it would seem that a bumper harvest is expected. Much of the attribution will be the endurance of farmers to use their own resources for farming. This is as it should be. However, support is required so that in future government is not left alone to shoulder the burden of agriculture support. On this point, my strong take is that the private sector and financial institutions must play a much more active role.
The realisation that Zimbabwe is naturally bestowed excellent land and growing conditions of a variety of enterprises must be taken advantage of. The scope to increase national productivity per hectare for the essential crops like maize and soybean is there, if all stakeholders work in tandem and with the same vision. Yet the majority of the farmers are in the newly resettled areas (2000-2014), which is a highly productive but wasted asset. This is bacause street talk regards such land as contested because of the history of transfer, which stakeholders in leadership must negotiate and bring to finality. My take is that communal farmers without collateral security have suffered damade as well as banks regards their land ownership as dead capital.
There are clear drivers for this agenda to be achieved: • financing will need to be underpinned by farmers’ own resources; •contract farming must be promoted, now that there is a regulatory instruments that can foster better relations; • bank funding arrangements is key, which means that government and financial institutions must sit and discuss the gridlock and negotiate what suites both parties; • research and development must be boosted, so that farmers increase yields per hectares; • farmers must be made aware that they can be competitive even on lower land units depending on how they manage their enterprises; • those who cannot use all the land must free up, and surrender to government to give to others on the waiting list. Both farmers and extension workers need skilling, reskilling and training and the general capacitation. This should be meant to align farmers with the current technological trends. The knowledge has to be communicated and the feedback smoothen the adoption process. Today farmers can adopt the use of ICT, which has shrinked the territorial boundaries, making it very simple and easy for farmers to share and learn farming practices irrespective of their localities. The government should encourage investment by private citizens in the use of the ICTs in the agricultire sector, this would benefit farmers as they can also access market information readily.
While production subsidies have the effect of distorting markets, especially in an environment where almost everyone wants support they need to be considered in a careful manner. Zimbabwe, is currently a very expensive country for the production of commodities, making it virtually uncompetitive in the regional market price. The result is that the region is benefitting by literary dumping produce on the local market. Most local producers are regularly finding themselves out of business. This means there is need to start investing in Private Public Community Partnerships (PPCPs), this ensures that farmers are supported by inputs and they get guaranteed market for the produce. We have noted a serious misunderstanding of banks and other private players on the current dynamics of the agriculture sector. Mistrust is very high, and banks rarely feature on the ground to see what the state of agriculture looks like. In some cases, decisions are being made in offices, of simply rejecting smallholder farmers finance applications without just and fair assessments, no feedback, when farmers make efforts.
Due to lack of Trust, we at Ruzivo recommend group formations and group co-guaranteeing is perhaps providing a halfway answer to lack of trust. In this case, the PPCP agricultural developmental model can be practilised, without private sector and banks being prejudiced. In fact it would make sense for banks to try out these models, rather than having this discussion held in offices, without practical results of farmers having defaulted. Some bankers claiming 20 years of working in finance institutions, miss the point that the agrarian situation out there has changed, and it will not revert to the old systems, where a few controlled most of the resources. Rather the obtaining agrarian situation, that perhaps they were not totally schooled in, is what banks need to understand better and work with.
While we urge banks to reform and look beyond the past, the government should adopt policies and programmes should embrace the investment by the private players in the agricultural sector. Where government has gone into partnership, it should respect the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) to avoid unnecessary ambiguous. An overarching land policy that is aligned with agriculture policy, will help towards removing the grey areas in such partnership agreements. Zimbabwe has technically astute leaders, who can analyse agreements that are beneficial to the nation. A time, when partnerships also spread to communal areas, old resettlement areas (1980-1997), small scale commercial farms and peri-urban farms should be in the horizon. It would seem unfortunately, that agriculture is only about new resettlement farms (cum large scale commercial farms) constituting only 12.4 million hectares. Yet, we have over 17 million hectares in the other sectors, some with good soils and growing conditions that could be put to better use. The state must make efforts to attracting investment in these areas, rather than being pushed only to think of new resettlement areas as the panacea to food security, employment and income..