Strategic crop for Zim economy

Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki 
Soyabean is strategic to Zimbabwe’s economy.

It is a valuable food, cash, industrial raw material and soil-improving crop. Increased production will save foreign currency being used to import soya and soya products like cooking oil and stockfeeds.

Soyabean is the cash crop of the future for Zimbabwe and will help farmers diversify enterprises as crops like tobacco gradually succumb to international restrictions.

Zimbabwe’s annual requirements are estimated at 250 000 tonnes annually. Yet, the 2016-17 season saw about 50 000 tonnes produced.

The challenge is to significantly increase the volume of national production.

Imports of crude cooking oil, soya cake and even raw soyabean grain gobble up millions of scarce foreign exchange.

Soya shortages threaten our poultry, piggery, dairy and fish production enterprises where soya-based feeds are required.

The local content approach points to the need to boost domestic soyabean production.

In this article, we review the status of the Command Soya Programme from the point of view of plans that had been put in place for input distribution and farmer training in the 2017-18 cropping season.

We then outline a general approach that can enhance adoption and boost production. Lastly, we revisit some of the technical issues that require attention for soya-bean to really take off in Zimbabwe.

Local production can be increased by mobilising and providing farmers with requisite skills, knowledge, inputs, irrigation and mechanisation support.

Zimbabwe has capacity to increase soya production to meet demand and provide for exports within a few cropping seasons.

With proper planning and foresight, soya volumes will be boosted under Command Agriculture and promises to meet national soya needs.

The University of Zimbabwe has been collaborating with Agritex, the Department of Research and Specialist Services and private sector soya value-chain actors to train and provide technical back-stopping services to both large and small scale soyabean farmers.

Training focuses on enterprise profitability through minimising costs of production while aiming for the highest possible yields. Training will be expanded to cover processing and utilisation and consumption of soya in households across the country.

Widespread production, processing and utilisation of soya-bean will positively impact not only food and nutrition security, but also health and income of rural populations.

In the 2017-18 cropping season, a comprehensive farmer training and technical support programme estimated to cost upwards of US$200 000 was developed.

It was planned to include cost of training, transport, demonstrations and monitoring.

Inputs to produce a soya crop of 120 000 tonnes worth an estimated US$60 million were mobilised with full participation of private and public sectors under Command Agriculture and the Presidential Well-Wishers Agricultural Inputs Support Scheme.

Events preceding Operation Restore Legacy saw the displacement of two major proponents of Command Agriculture: then Vice-President and now President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

These events were near-fatal for Command Agriculture and the soyabean initiative.

Soya inputs distribution arrangements were disrupted and farmers ended up going all the way to collect seed from suppliers in Harare.

Command Soyabean was probably the biggest loser as it was a new addition to the programme. Distribution of inputs and farmer and extension training were disrupted. Funding for training soya-bean farmers and extension workers was not availed on time.

While we, as the technical support team, squeezed in some training sessions for farmers and extension in Mashonaland West and Central, the momentum of farmer training was seriously curtailed.

Agritex officers tried their best at local level to conduct training sessions, but resources were very limited. Late coming of rains and the subsequent long dry spell further reduced the momentum of the soyabean promotion initiative.

To be continued next week

Well into January, many farmers were still sourcing inputs availed under Command Agriculture. Time simply ran out for many.

It is hoped next season will see better planning and execution of the programme to timely avail inputs to soyabean farmers.

In the long-term, however, Government and soyabean stakeholders might be well-advised to develop robust sustainable long-term strategies to integrate and sustain soyabean production in Zimbabwe.

Soyabean promotion

A dedicated national soyabean promotion programme can be launched with two objectives: to build farmers’ capacity to produce competitively; and to boost volumes to meet national demand ( estimated at 250 000 tonnes annually) and eliminate imports.

Needless to say, technical training and advisory support services are critical to efficient use of inputs.

A long-term strategy is to integrate soyabean into local cropping systems. Sustainable production requires integration of soybean into large scale, small scale and communal cropping systems.

A major strategy is to establish a dedicated national institution for research, development and promotion of the soyabean value chain.

A Soybean Research and Development Institute is proposed.

A sustainable soyabean promotion programme should include the following key components:

  • Identification and mapping of the soyabean production potential of all farming areas in Zimbabwe based on soil properties and agro-ecological conditions. This will allow for appropriate targeting of soyabean promotion initiatives. High potential areas for soya production will be identified.
  • Technical training and advisory services must be availed to farmers and value chain actors. This aspect should be addressed through the involvement of universities, Agritex and private sector players in the soyabean value chain.
  • It is critical that a database of soyabean farmers and other stakeholders be developed and kept up-to-date. Farmer identification and registration can be carried out by the Agritex department.
  • Inputs mobilisation and distribution is another key element for successful soyabean production.

That aspect is being addressed through Command Agriculture as an interim measure by Government in collaboration with the private sector.

In the long-term, viable production and marketing systems will need to be developed and sustained.

Bank loans, contractors and self-financing arrangements should sustain soyabean production in the long-term. The introduction of bankable 99-year leases will enable farmers to access financing for their cropping programmes.

  • Mechanisation of the production value chain is critical to raise productivity from subsistence to commercial levels. Appropriate equipment for land preparation, planting, application of fertilisers and chemicals and harvesting must be developed and adapted for the different categories of farmers ranging from small-scale, communal and A1 to medium A2 and large-scale holdings.
  • In the light of climate change, irrigation has gained prominence as a key element for sustainable soyabean production. While soyabean is a rain-fed crop, frequent and sometimes extended dry spells require timely interventions with irrigation water.
  • A viable production programme will require deployment of appropriate marketing arrangements that remove the scourge of side-marketing. Exploitation of farmers by middlemen and unscrupulous buyers must also be addressed to level the playing field.
  • A national soyabean promotion programme will require monitoring and evaluation procedures to ensure all value chain actors are playing constructive roles.

Bodies like the Agricultural Marketing Authority and various farmers unions must be involved as referees of value chain activities to ensure farmers are not short-changed and discouraged from growing soyabeans. Ama is already working with various stakeholders to strengthen the soyabean value chain.

We now turn to highlight pertinent elements in soyabean production. How do we integrate soyabean into current cropping systems? Soya rotates well with crops like maize, wheat, cotton and even sugarcane.

Rotations break crop disease cycles and help maintain soil fertility. Tobacco tends to be nematode-infested and should not be rotated with soyabean.

On irrigated farms, soya-wheat rotation has proved to be one of the most sustainable from both soil fertility maintenance and profitability considerations.

Suitability for soyabean production is based on soils, rainfall and temperatures. Suitable soils range from loamy sands (minimum clay content, not pure sand/pit sand) all the way to heavy red and black clays.

In terms of agro-ecology, natural regions I, II and III are suitable for rain-fed production. In region IV, production can be successfully undertaken under irrigation.

Soyabean thrives well with rainfall ranging from 600–1 200mm per annum, falling in summer and distributed over the whole growing season.

Mid-season droughts are possible and may lower yields; supplementary irrigation is recommended. Avoid planting in low-lying water-logged soils.

All regions in Zimbabwe have suitable summer temperatures and periods of sunshine. Temperature variations with altitude and change of season may affect the Eastern Highlands; farmers need to plant early so crops mature before temperatures drop.

Soyabean production inputs include: seed (100kg/ha); basal compound fertiliser (200–300kg/ha); rhizobium inoculant which fixes nitrogen for the crop (80g/ha); and herbicides (pre-emergent and post-emergent; as per manufacturers’ recommendations).

Equipment required for soya production includes draught power for land preparation such as animals (oxen/donkeys) and tractors for large-scale producers.

The majority of farmers require small to medium-scale mechanical units; large tractors and irrigation pivot machines are not appropriate. This calls for intense efforts to develop appropriate mechanised tillage, planting, chemical application, irrigation, harvesting and drying equipment for this majority group of soyabean farmers.

The Agricultural Mechanisation Department must work closely with relevant university and technical college experts and private sector players to develop appropriate equipment critical for increasing productivity on the farms.

Local content as opposed to an import focus must guide these national thrusts.

Another important initiative that will drive soyabean adoption by farmers is training in home-processing and consumption.

Soyabean is highly nutritious with oils, proteins and immune-boosting minerals and vitamins. Between them, soyabean and maize provide the complete set of amino acids required by the human body; soya provides 21 of the 22 amino acids.

Our experience has been that soya-based foods boost the health of people living with HIV/Aids significantly. If the crop were widely grown and consumed, that could ameliorate the burden of HIV/Aids through improved nutrition.

The current season started late, with challenges in terms of accessing inputs for Command Soya and the Presidential Well-Wishers Agricultural Inputs Support Scheme.

Many farmers have planted while some did not get the necessary rains.

But overall, the call to take up soyabean has been widely heeded. We expect more farmers o take up the crop.

Those who failed to plant can store the seed in cool, dry places for possible use next season. It will be necessary to check the germination capacity of the seeds before planting.

We hope the return of the rains will help the soya crop to recover.

 

Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki is the Professorial Chair of the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering. He is one of the leading African research scientists in legume biological nitrogen fixation, rhizobium inoculant technology and soil fertility management; and is recognised as an expert in soyabean production, processing and marketing. He wrote this article for The Sunday Mail

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