Arda’s plan to feed a nation

Basil Nyabadza
The Agricultural Rural Development Authority is segmented into plantations, livestock, wildlife, horticulture, cereals and small grains departments.

It requires long-term competitive finance to achieve its objectives, and 21 of Arda’s 24 estates now have financial partners for short and long-term cropping.

Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Minister Chief Air Marshal (Retired) Perrance Shiri’s thrust is dedicating horticulture to export lines.

With support from the ministry, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and Agribank, Arda has a clear mandate to revive horticulture countrywide.

Public-private partnerships are working where there is evidence of mutual benefit. It is a policy designed for parastatals, and we have never been to Treasury for the past 15 years.

We believe the private and public sectors should join hands to extract value from land. The Arda Board is business-minded. Our management team has realised that the private sector works on a seven-day cycle and we believe fusion of skills is bringing benefit.

There are eight active projects in the country’s rural provinces, meaning it is a winning formula.

For example, just 20km from Harare’s CBD is an estate called Nijo where a fine maize crop of 400 hectares was planted under a new method of zero tillage.

In this post-Davos period, Arda is engaging the delegation that attended the World Economic Forum to get information on relevant expressions of interest and to follow them up.

The region is competing for FDI, with Zimbabwe topping agriculture. Focus is on horticulture processing and marketing.

Arda has established partnerships with domestic, regional and international firms whose identities I cannot divulge now.

A lot of inquiries are, however, coming from international players who want to come in with competitive finance.

It is important to reach out to regional and international customers or potential investors.

Therefore, a reputable consultancy firm is speaking the regional and international language on our behalf and that has helped.

Arda’s maize, wheat and livestock production has trebled in the last two seasons.

So, really, we believe we’ve found the formula; yet some parastatals are still writing wonderful grammatical letters to Treasury for funding.

Estates that have been revived include Jotsholo and Tsholotsho (Matabeleland North) where we are producing maize and wheat; and livestock, respectively. Balu Estate in Umguza has embarked on pecan nut production, and an investor will start with 250 hectares of the nuts.

Another estate is at Mapisa Growth Point (Matabeleland South) and in Bulilima, we do cereals, too – wheat in the winter and maize in summer – and there is also a herd of plus/minus 2 000 cattle.

Mapisa Estate has a maize farm with silos and dryers to expedite migration from maize to winter cropping. A milling facility has just been installed as we don’t want to take maize to Bulawayo but mealie-meal.

In Midlands, Arda has fine maize and soyabean crops; winter wheat is also produced there.

Masvingo has one wildlife estate and another for sugarcane.

Arda has three estates in Manicaland. One produces sugarcane in Chisumbanje, accounting for 20 percent of national petrol requirements. We have tea estates in Kati, Honde Valley and an investor has just taken up Rusitu Estate where we are reviving macadamia nut production.

So, these are some of the long-term projects Arda has secured because of an enabling environment.

In Marondera, Mashonaland East one estate concentrates on fruits for our processing plant in Norton where we have a partnership with Schweppes Zimbabwe Limited.

Several projects are running in Mashonaland West; one of them is a tomato-processing plant and another produces maize seed.

All these projects stem from the principle of PPPs.

Arda’s target is to ensure 25 percent of Zimbabwe’s wheat comes from our estates. At least 25-30 percent of national maize output should also come from Arda.

Exports, job-creation

For the first time in six years, we are exporting groundnuts, starting this February. We’ve secured an order from South Africa and are already processing plus/minus 2 000 tonnes.

We are also looking at pearl millet and sorghum. There is a market and market-led production will trigger economic activity in villages in Muzarabani and Nyanga.

Small grains, especially sorghum, are critical to stockfeed manufacturing and that in the long-run should limit maize to human consumption. As it is now, chickens, pigs and humans are competing for maize.

Overally, agriculture is the biggest employer.

Zimbabwe chose a business model of farming. When we are farming – whether at communal or A1 level – at least 10 out of 12 people per family will be employed.

Multiply that by 62 districts by eight rural provinces.

Arda has listed four by-products of agriculture: milk, mealie-meal, bread and abattoir products. Bread is predominantly baked in Harare and transported to Masvingo, Mutare and elsewhere.

That is unviable as someone is “eating” that money.

A component of that money should go to the farmer. We must have strong provincial bakery, abattoir, milling and dairy positions.

Take Midlands, for example: it is the only province sufficient in milk production.

Midlands is exporting value-added milk and every other province is importing milk. We cannot have Victoria Falls, for instance, being fed by Bulawayo, which is 400km away.

That is not business; it’s not competitive.

Even this idea of bread costing US$1 per loaf is unacceptable. Some people in the value chain are getting more than they are supposed to.

Let us revisit that. The farmer must be the one getting the higher proportion; not the transporter. There’s need for cost-cutting.

Centres of excellence

Arda has been the reference site regarding what the State can do to establish centres of excellence. The estates I spoke about earlier have the latest technology in terms of irrigation, mechanisation and farming methods.

We want farmers in surrounding districts to learn on field days.

In addition, Arda has been a key player, showcasing what can happen when there is fusion of skills and technology.

It needs to work with other parastatals such as the Grain Marketing Board, Cold Storage Company, Ama and Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.

We need change in those other organisations; to see that they are also adapting.

Revitalising railways, for example, is critical to agriculture because we want to be competitive. We are now growing food not just for Zimbabweans, but for the region.

We want permanently dedicated export lines.

 

Mr Basil Nyabadza is Chairman of the Agricultural Rural Development Authority. He was speaking to The Sunday Mail’s Grace Kaerasora in Harare last week

 

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