The Sunday Mail
SUSTAINED Government support schemes in the agriculture sector, chief among them Command Agriculture programmes, are expected to boost production on farms and propel economic growth into the future.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), global trends in agriculture show that investment in the sector continues to rise and low and middle-income countries invest almost as much in absolute terms as high income countries, that is at around $190 billion.
In Zimbabwe, successful implementation of the extended command agriculture programme to include soya beans and livestock production, dairy, agroforestry, fisheries and wildlife, coupled with conducive weather for agriculture production, is anticipated to further boost the sector with a projected growth of 10, 7 percent, according to Treasury figures.
Last year, the sector contributed an estimated 14, 6 percent to the country’s gross domestic product, and analysts contend the figure might further increase this year and going forward on continued Government support.
Overall growth in 2017 was influenced by a combination of comprehensive farmer support programmes as well as a favourable climate for agriculture.
Coupled with above normal rainfall, the maize Command Agriculture Scheme introduced two seasons ago surpassed expectations and managed to achieve its intended purpose of boosting food production and meeting local demand.
This, analysts say, should see total output further increasing across the sector.
Agriculture production had declined in the past decade on various challenges such as poor mechanisation, lack of access to funding for inputs and bad weather.
But Government recognises that the sector remains essential to the economy as its backbone and its role towards food security, job creation, industrial production as well as general economic growth.
The sector provides about 60 percent of the raw materials required for the local manufacturing sector and employs an estimated 70 percent of the country’s population.
In light of this, Government has stepped up efforts to boost productivity and make Zimbabwe a net exporter of agriculture products in the region and beyond.
At a recent tour of Surface Wilmar Plant in Chitungwiza, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, said Government would starting this season, include oil seed crops under command agriculture and come up with a lucrative incentives for soya beans as part of incentives to boost production.
This will also ensure the processing industry has adequate raw materials.
In order to mitigate challenges posed by drought, especially on rain-fed crops, Government last year launched Command Water Harvesting programme, which is aimed at transforming livelihoods of people in communal and farming areas.
Under this programme, there shall be construction of dams and also small weirs on rivers to allow for the collection of water during the rainy season for use during the dry period.
In 2015/16, agriculture season, the whole of the Sub Saharan Africa was plunged into drought as a result of the El Nino weather phenomenon, which cut output severely, especially for small scale farmers who are the country’s largest producers of grain and tobacco.
Government’s initiative on water harvesting will help offset the effects of drought by ensuring communities can produce crops throughout the year even during dry times.
To add to that, the recent commissioning of the Tokwe Mukosi Dam in Chivi district opened up 25 000 hectares to year-round irrigation with capacity of 1, 8 million mega litres and a yield of 364 000 ML of water per hour.
The dam, will also provide irrigation water to Lowveld cane plantations, with sugar output expected to grow by 15 percent as a result. An ethanol plant planned for Nuanetsi Ranch in the area will also benefit from the dam, in addition to an aquaculture project under the Command Fishing project.
According to FAO Zimbabwe has more than 12 000 small to medium inland dams with potential to produce 160 000 metric tonnes of farmed fish. The estimated production of capture fish and farmed fish are 12 500 metric tonnes and 10 500 metric tonnes respectively.
Commissioning of Tokwe Mukosi and Government support for the fisheries will be instrumental in boosting the country’s aquaculture.
Other initiatives such as plans to promote production of rice in Zimbabwe at a commercial level were made and declared the crop a major cereal crop in the country.
This came after the realisation that rice had become a major grain crop with most households consuming it yet grown at a small scale mostly in rural areas by small holder farmers.
In light of this, dam project was also going to be instrumental in the production of rice as well as the flood plains of Tsholotsho and Tokwe Mukosi.
Apart from food crops, Government has also come up with initiatives to support non-food crops such as decentralization of tobacco auction floors with the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) having carried the first round inspection of possible sites.
The decentralisation was initially expected to be functional during the 2018 marketing season as authorities seek to decongest the existing auction floors.
Decentralisation is meant to reduce transport costs for farmers when ferrying tobacco to the market and also reducing congestion at the floors in Harare.
Additionally, Government introduced the national agroforestry programme which is aimed at boosting food security and promote sustainable land use.
Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. The system combines shrubs or fruits trees in agricultural and forestry technologies to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy ecologically sound and sustainable land use.
Officially launching the programme recently, Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri said the national agroforestry programme had been designed to complement the Command Agriculture initiative.
However, funding remains one of the biggest challenges for the sector, especially for small holder farmers. Following the land reform programme, banks significantly reduced lending to agriculture, asking for immovable assets as collateral.
Even after coming up with the 99 year lease document and amendments to it, banks have still remained hesitant and not convinced on its bankability.
Lending rates have still remained high and unsustainable for farmers at about 12 percent to 15 percent with farmer organisation calling for further reduction to enable farmers to pay back the loans.
The central bank has also been negotiating with local financial institutions to increase lending to agriculture to 30 percent of total credit from the current 16 percent.