The Sunday Mail
Driving southerly some 120 kilometres out of Bulawayo, at the heart of Matobo district, having gone past the famous granite outcrops of the Matopos, lies Maphisa.
During the dry season, the place can be unforgivingly hot — and is equally cold during winter.
And such climatic conditions are usually accompanied by an erratic rain distribution pattern, which makes farming, especially crop farming, an unenviable prospect in that part of the country.
Which makes the story of Arda Antelope an inspiring one, for the farm has defied the surrounding weather conditions to produce what should be the envy of many-a-farmer in the country.
The farm, which is being run on a private-public partnership between Arda and Credcorp (the holding company for Trek Petroleum), is such a successful story that it can be told over and over again.
“We are grateful to the Government for the support that they have been rendering us through Command Agriculture and we are sure we have matched or even surpassed some of our own expectations,” remarked Alec Chinyai, the estate manager.
Just going through the figures, one gets a feeling that the story of Arda Antelope should be copied and replicated in other Arda estates across the country. Or it could be used as a model for some of the farms which are currently lying idle across the length and breadth of the country.
Unapologetically, Chinyai enthuses about the success — and transformation — that their farm has gone through and rolls off the figures from his tongue like he is reading them from some sheet.
“These are figures that I deal with everyday, they are figures that I should know when I am coming to the office. For our summer maize, we have since delivered 5 500 tonnes to the Grain Marketing Board and we are sitting on plus or minus 300 tonnes, waiting to be delivered,” he said in a recent discussion.
And not only that, the farm managed 13 tonnes in one hectare, 12,8 tonnes in two other hectares, 11,8 tonnes in another hectare and the rest of the 700-hectare operation was above nine tonnes.
“That is quite an achievement, and we are proud of it. Like I mentioned earlier on, we have to be thankful to Government for Command Agriculture, we would not be speaking of these figures were it not for the programme.”
This winter, 650 hectares have already been put under wheat and the farm is expecting an average of eight tonnes per hectare.
“Though the temperatures might be too low for us, people, these are the ideal temperatures for winter wheat, especially for the crop that is heading.
“The crop that we planted on April 25 is heading and about 168 hectares planted in late May is in the early vegetative stage. We are also happy with the rains that fell around Easter, they helped Antelope Dam to spill, which means we are covered in terms of water supply for this winter wheat as well as the summer crop. We have enough water.”
Whilst the rains might have helped fill the dam, there was a downside as combine harvesters could not operate in some of the fields.
“We ended up having to use manual labour in some of the hectares, because the heavy equipment could not move in the fields. But we are done with harvesting maize, done with wheat planting. Now we are working on our winter sugar beans, we want to put down 75 hectares of sugar beans.”
But what has been the magic formula for Arda Antelope?
“It has been a mixture of things, from hard work to having a team that is dedicated and devoted to the goodwill that has come our way, courtesy of Command Agriculture,” that from Lodie Steyl, the operations manager.
At about 1 200 hectares, Arda Antelope has combined crop farming and animal husbandry, and so successful has been the mixture that the farm is expecting a herd of about a thousand cattle to be imported from Namibia.
“The logistics have been done and any time soon we should be receiving the herd of cattle, to beef up the about 460-herd that we already have,” explained Chinyai.
The farm has cleverly combined maize with cattle breeding, the areas between the pivots have been turned into strip-grazing areas.
“And we don’t need anyone to tend to the animals, we use a solar-powered fence to keep the animals within their grazing area. The fence acts more like an electric fence, which sends a small shock wave to any animal that gets into contact with the wire,” explained Steyl.
But it is the talk on their maize crop that Steyl and Chinyai — more like on a telepathic note — that they constantly reverted to. “We managed to plant an average of 128 000 plants per hectare and we had greatly anticipated our average yield to be around 12,8 tonnes per hectare. And we were not far off that target,” said Steyl.
The farm planted the 527, 637 and 727 varieties and received about 350 tonnes of fertilizers for the maize and about 280 tonnes for the winter wheat from Command Agriculture.
“Besides we also received the seed and herbicides from the same scheme,” added Steyl.
“We should be among the top performers in the country when we talk about maize production,” enthused Steyl.
With a permanent staff of 95 — and a rolling call-up of casual labour, whose figure depends on the nature of the job to be done, the management at Arda Antelope believe that they will have a significant contribution to the agricultural revolution that already started taking place around the country.
The farm boasts 16 centre pivots, of which each pivot covers 45 hectares.
“The centre pivots here use some of the latest technologies on the market. We are just waiting for the software but soon we will be able to monitor and control the pivot from anywhere in the world, as long as I will have internet coverage.
“An application on my smart phone is all I will need. And through that application, I will be able to monitor the amount of water being sprayed, and what ratios we need to use when fertigating. If there is any need to increase the water output, that can easily be done through the application.”
The success story of Arda Antelope has been so overwhelming that last August, in his capacity as the Acting President then, Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa went on a tour of the sprawling estate. The farm shares the same partnership model with other Arda farms like Sanyati, Mbuya Nehanda, Ingwizi and Mapaneni.
“We have not confined our success to ourselves only,” added Chinyai as an afterthought, “We support the local communal farmers in one way or the other. For instance, we have the out grower support programme where we offer technical support to these farmers.
“For agricultural colleges, we also play a role as we take a number of students on attachment every year. Schools from around, and some from even afar, come for educational tours. That is how influential our operations are.”