The Sunday Mail
Word from the market with AMA
Training is an effective way of promoting production and marketing in agriculture. Smallholder farmers, who constitute the majority in Zimbabwe, have a key role to play in ensuring that the national development agenda that seeks to achieve food security and self-sufficiency is realised.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farmers provide up to 80 percent of the food supply. However, these farmers are producing below their potential due to several factors.
To build on the bumper harvest of over three million tonnes of grain recorded last season, greater attention needs to be paid to comprehensively structure training of smallholder farmers in aspects such as production, processing, storage, marketing and distribution of agricultural produce and products.
Training is important because agriculture is a science and a business.
This will also ensure that farmers can improve their business and make an impact.
The Government has been at the forefront of encouraging farmers to treat farming as a business. As such, training on agronomic best practices and finance is only the first step.
This is in addition to facilitating financial and technical support to improve yields and the quality of crops.
For farmers to realise sustainability in their operations, they need to be able to capture the technical and financial data useful in informing crop performance as well as the profitability of their farming operations.
Financial training assists farmers in gathering and interpretation of financial data. Effective implementation of financial skills can help a farmer ascertain with accuracy an increase or decrease in productivity.
Africa University Lecturer in the department of crop science, Dr Walter Manyangarirwa, says that training ensures “viability and reduction of waste in material and financial resources”.
The training of farmers in the safe use of agrochemicals is also advocated. Smallholder farmers often realise poor yields due to poor farming practices. While the Agritex provides technical extension, advisory and regulatory services across the production value chain, farmers can also be trained through their farmers’ groups, clusters, clubs and even as individuals.
Training agents can be from farmers’ unions, company agronomists or even contractors for different types of produce.
Further, technical training may largely depend on factors like agro-climatic conditions, which determine seed selection, control of weeds and use of biological methods to control pests, drip irrigation, inter-cropping, harvesting and preservation.
After production, every farmer needs market skills. More often, smallholder farmers have not been realising good returns from their work because they cannot manoeuvre the market especially negotiating price. This often leaves the farmer at the mercy of the middleman.
In addition, farmers lack important knowledge on crops performing well both at harvest and market level. This is important to know because a commodity may have high volume, but low returns while another can have low volume, but high returns.
Cabbages, for instance, have high volume, but low returns compared to peas or carrots. Also, critical to know is the monthly average prices of each commodity in the market.
Empowering farmers digitally creates a firm foundation for alleviating poverty and improving lives. According to McKinsey, sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than 400 digital agriculture solutions are in use, including applications in financial services, market linkages, supply-chain management, advisory and information services, and business intelligence.
To operate these, and encourage farmer uptake and adoption, extensive training is required.
The success of smallholder farmers translates to success of the economy. Thus, they require hand-holding to make well-informed decisions.