Another monster in the agricultural sector which certainly affects farmers in times of crisis is the issue of middlemen, who tend to pocket more than the farmers
By Donald Mushove
The COVId-19 emergency has exposed numerous catastrophic failures not only in the Zimbabwean economy but the world economy. Pre-existing inequities are more pronounced in times of crisis, and food insecurity is an issue in every country.
Agriculture needs to be given priority for a sustainable economy which can hold fort and recover once the crisis is over.
Clearly agriculture has not been given the priority that it deserves and farmers already reeling from the current economic crisis are now entering unchartered waters.
Currently over 100 million people are in food crisis worldwide according to the Global Network against Food Crises, and it will get worse if current trends are nor reversed.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), about 23% of children in Zimbabwe have stunted growth.
This clearly indicates the need for food and a revitalised agricultural system and policy framework. While efforts have been made to manage disasters or avert crisis when disaster strikes, less efforts have been directed towards agriculture in crisis times.
Zimbabwean farmers and investors have to come up with a strategy of resilient agricultural management in times of crisis. There is need to thoroughly re-examine the policies and practice of agriculture as to what led us to be vulnerable to food shortages and agricultural calamities.
As we deal with the COVID-19 crisis, actions we take today should contribute towards building resilient communities capable of handling crisis through systems that include resilient food systems.
Food donations alleviate human suffering and; save lives and livelihoods but they do not address the root causes of food crises. Reflecting on the Zimbabwean situation, we have had recurring droughts throughout the years from 1982 to the present day with a few isolated success stories.
There is need to establish a resilient agricultural system which covers from the communal farmer to the large scale commercial farmer.
It is ever clear that what is most important is the resilience of our food systems to address not only national level food security, but also community level and individual level food security.
Farmers have to adopt methods which ensure they survive. The methods have to be strongly based on foundations of indigenous knowledge paired with scientific evidence based conservative methods. Organic agriculture has grown substantially in other parts of the world as an alternative.
The pandemic shows the importance of small scale farmers or subsistence farming in the economy and the adoption of farming without expensive synthetic inputs. While synthetic inputs have always helped increase productivity, it is pertinent to develop an organic framework at individual and national level.
These sustainable methods of farming ensure that the farmers can produce with limited resources.
The current situation means that synthetic inputs will be in short supply and expensive due to the lockdown measures which have reduced production of synthetic inputs in Zimbabwe and internationally.
This clearly shows that organic methods of farming become the best way to prepare this season. However it is not an overnight thing that one can wake up with enough organic farming inputs or resources. It is a system which is developed over years through conservative and sustainable methods.
Growing up in Baradzamwa, Mazvihwa in Zvishavane we used to dig anthills and cow dung manure and use as fertiliser.
This fertiliser example shows how as a nation our farmers should be prepare to go the organic direction ( using compost, manure and biofertilisers) which seems to work just fine in times of crisis when synthetic inputs can be in short supply and expensive.
Some farming methods can open up our country to abuse by multinational companies in the name of modernisation, but undermining resilience and food security for small holder farmers.
Ecological or organic agriculture using fewer chemicals will reduce costs, increase soil fertility; raise more diverse, healthy and cultural food crops adapted to climate change.
Morocco is completing its first national organic action plan, for the period 2011-2020 and already working on the development of its next 10 year national organic action plan for the period 2021-2030.
The scope of their plan includes supporting activities to strengthen the capacities of the organic operators and strengthening research and development programmes. We could learn from them as a nation and be better prepared in times of crisis.
Training remains a vital pillar in agriculture; most farmers are not trained and use subsistence methods passed on generationally or culturally. Most communal and smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe take farming as something that does not require any training.
Taking professional classes in agriculture is something that is still looked down upon, mostly because of the low income associated with agriculture in Zimbabwe. This unprofessional and un-business-like approach has often seen people strongly believe that for Zimbabwe to produce food it needs white farmers!
Zimbabwe needs agricultural training not a Race! This should not be interpreted in racial terms; my point is that we have a large portion of our population depending entirely on agriculture in Zimbabwe and empowering them wwill certainly change the production landscape.
Farmers by accident
As of 2018, according to World Bank statistics and the Global Press Journal 68% (67.9%) of Zimbabweans live in rural areas and depend on agriculture. Food and agriculture organisation (FAO) agriculture contributes approximately 17% to Zimbabwe’s GDP.
FAO also points agriculture as the main source of livelihood for the majority of the population, and the performance of agriculture is a key determinant of rural livelihood resilience and poverty levels.
Surprisingly a majority of these farmers are farmers by accident, they were born in a rural setup and have never known any other form of survival than tilling the land, and they are highly untrained.
They are unaware of any way of preparing for crisis or drought situations. It is also surprising to note that efforts to train these farmers are so minimal. It is not just a matter of giving out inputs or mechanising the agricultural system, training in basic agricultural principles is pivotal.
If Zimbabwe has to manage the food crisis and be self-sustaining, it should roll out a serious training programme for all rural farmers.
While extension workers or vadhumeni are there, most of them are doing nothing than just receive food parcels from the poorly trained lowly productive farmers in their areas. There is a serious and urgent need to roll out a serious and rigorous training programme to rural farmers.
The framework is there but there is no strategy, and that is what should be crafted.
Announcement on radio or television for farmer to adopt small grains in low rainfall areas will not make sense if the farmer is not trained. If they have some form of training and have an understanding of their soils and rain patterns and what it means then they will certainly appreciate farming advice.
There is a lot of work to be done and a national plan needs to be drawn. The challenges we face in our farm economy and rural communities will to fix themselves.
As we consider how to emerge from COVID-19, climate (Cyclone Idai) and economic emergencies and rebuild for the future, our policy framework needs a new design- a design focused on thriving rural communities, more farmers on the land and ecological resilience.
Agricultural training will certainly address chronic rural poverty and hunger while improving nutrition, health and climate resilience. The training programmes should be designed to suit the education standards of our rural population and the resources available to them.
Another monster in the agricultural sector which certainly affects farmers in times of crisis is the issue of middlemen, who tend to pocket more than the farmers.
The causes of the middlemen crisis runs deep, through years of an interlocking system of trade which shifts the risks to the farmers and profits to ever larger corporations, eviscerating more resilient diversified farm and rural economies.
The treatment given the purely agricultural side of the problem is increasingly becoming unsatisfactory.
Middlemen are enjoying the bigger chunk of farming profits and the farmer is left with no income to plough back in their land.
They fail to buy inputs, pay farmworkers handsomely and fail to prepare for the next farming season while the middlemen enjoy heavy profits which they divert to other sectors which are not agriculture related.
There should be a holistic marketing plan and strategy which links farmers directly to their market. This can be done through digital farming and marketing platforms and establishing agricultural marketing centres. Digital farming and marketing platforms will ensure that farmers interact among themselves and their customers directly.
Consumers and producers should find each other and together co-create a brighter future for all. Technology will thus link the market with the producer without the need of middlemen. Marketing centres that are built within the vicinity of farming communities will help with easy of transportation of products and accessibility issues.
This will also bring development and service providers closer to the farmers. The tobacco auctioning system used in Zimbabwe and the cotton buying systems in Zimbabwe gives an insight of the importance of having marketing centres within farming communities.
Cotton companies buy directly within farming communities; tobacco companies could equally buy directly from farmers with regulations in place to avoid farmer exploitation.
Donald Mushove is a Forensic expert, consultant, writer and poet. He is contactable on email@example.com / Donald Mushove on FB/ @OGmediaguru on Twitter/ +263 777 479 781 on WhatsApp.
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