Getting right skills for agric

Government should invest in training farmers contracted under the Command Agriculture Programme as most of them lack skills to sustain the scheme in the long run, a top academic has said.

Presenting a paper on Command Agriculture during the inaugural International Conference on Food Security and Climate Change organised by Bindura University of Science and Technology last week, Professor Sheunesu Mupepereki said the development has resulted in target deficits.

This, he said, leaves most farmers unable to pay back their loans.

“What worries me is that when I attended the first review of the Command Agriculture, the number of tonnes of grain, maize in this case, divided by number of hectares, was less than a tonne per hectare,” Professor Mupepereki said.

“The major players are the farmers but have you ever thought about why the managing directors of banks, all these businesses, fertilizer companies, the seed companies and chemical suppliers all wait for the farmer to deliver?

“Do we have farmers? Have we invested enough in turning these guys into real farmers?

“If not, the whole economy cannot rely on an incapacitated group to carry the national vision. When the guy collapses, everyone will collapse with him.”

Prof Mupepereki also said the few farmers who were trained either have irrelevant education to what they are doing or were failing to apply the knowledge,” he said.

Prof Mupepereki called out some farmers for taking Command Agriculture for granted, saying this does not tally with President Mnangagwa’s Vision 2030.

Speaking at the same conference, the Minister for Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Amon Murwira revealed that indeed, the skills deficit in the agricultural sector is critical.

“We conducted a critical skills audit when we came in December in order to see at what level were our skills,” he said.

“The skills level of this country on average are at 38 percent and that means we can only read and write.

“The audit revealed that although we have an overall skills deficit of 62 percent, in agriculture we have a deficit of 88 percent.

“So most people in agriculture are practicing it but are not agriculture scientists.”

Skills deficit in the agriculture sector is seen by experts as an impediment to economic growth as well as efforts to end hunger.

The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac) particularly notes that skills deficit is rife in rural areas and this is thought to be fuelling hunger and poverty.

“At national level, the proportion of households which received agricultural training shows a downward trend from 34 percent in 2017 to 26 percent in 2018,” says ZimVac.

Manicaland (41 percent to 28 percent) and Mashonaland East (32 percent to 25 percent) reported the highest decrease in the proportion of households which received agriculture training.”

The declining levels of training for communal farmers corresponds with the declining proportion of households that received extension visits. According to ZimVac, extension visits declined from 31 percent in 2016/17 to 21 percent in the 2017/2018 season.

The trend shows that household visits are becoming less frequent and this leaves farmers without enough knowledge to run productive farms.

Presenting the 2018 National Budget Statement, former Finance Minister, Cde Patrick Chinamasa acknowledged the need to train farmers.

He said Government recognised, in the interim, that the new farmer would need to be incubated to learn the ropes and overcome inefficiencies that entail lower yields.

The former minister noted that in the absence of skills, traditional private partners and bank funders of agriculture also become hesitant to develop fully supportive facilities for farmers.

As such, this necessitates adoption of collaborative financing models by Government and the private sector.

Speaking on the conference, Bindura University of Science and Technology Vice Chancellor, Professor Eddie Mwenje, said its mandate is to come up with practical solutions to adapt to climate change and guarantee food security.

The initiative is being run at the University’s Centre for Food Security and Climate Change.

“The main objective is to build capacity of agricultural professional and climate change experts through relevant and high quality post graduate training and applied research,” he said.

“The centre seeks to achieve this through mutually beneficial collaborations with national, regional and international universities as well as private and public sector organisations.

“The centre conducts research and community engagement activities in food security and climate change. In 2017, we received $317 000 from the Regional University Forum for capacity building in agriculture.”

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