|Editorial Comment: Zimbabwe can return to breadbasket status|
|Friday, 10 August 2012 00:00|
Vice President John Nkomo was spot-on early this week when he said it was embarrassing for this country to be importing grain from countries such as Malawi and Zambia, countries which we taught the basics of farming.
He stressed the need to increase productivity on farms also as a way of fulfilling the aspirations of the liberation struggle.
His words are instructive.
The enthusiasm by Government to empower its people through land redistribution has not received the same measure of excitement if what we see on farms today is anything to go by.
Yet we should be in the middle of an agrarian revolution whereby our farmers should be competing to fill the nation’s granaries.
Why should Zimbabwe import maize when, a few years ago, communal farmers could by themselves produce enough to feed the whole country while commercial farmers produced largely for export?
Granaries at the Grain Marketing Board were always full but today they are empty and miserable.
Many farmers, genuine and aspiring, have failed the country by their failure to maximise production on their farms although some have genuinely found the going tough in terms of access to inputs and information.
The former, need to be more serious and grow enough food for themselves and for the nation at large while A2 farmers should be able to grow for export.
A country such as ours can surely not be allowed to import almost all foodstuffs while arable land is being underutilised.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti shares in the blame as he has adamantly refused to fund agriculture.
Of course natural disasters such as droughts, fires and in some cases floods, have compromised output, but Zimbabwean farmers need to perform optimally.
The country certainly has the wherewithal to feed the entire region and beyond.
All we need to do is ensure that our farmers have greater resolve to produce and maximise on the pieces of land that were allocated to them.
Owning a farm should not just be something a farmer brags about over a beer but he should pride himself in his production figures.
The days of cellphone farmers are long gone.
The Ministry of Agriculture should strengthen its extension and advisory services to farmers while inputs should be made available timeously, particularly for rural farmers who have to travel long distances to purchase inputs.
Furthermore, training programmes should be put in place to equip the farmer with adequate knowledge and skill on the farming activities they need to undertake.
The commercial farmers, on their part, should take the initiative and plan well in terms of inputs, labour and other ingredients critical for successful farming.
The poor yields registered in recent years should be a thing of the past while working conditions for farm workers need to be improved to induce higher productivity.
The agricultural sector as a whole needs to have all the systems in place in the entire production matrix.
A chain is as strong as its weakest link so any challenges in terms of inputs availability, chemical production, transport logistics or any such factor will obviously affect total output.
Government should also act decisively on those farmers that are not making full use of their land.
Power supply has also been the greatest undoing, with farmers losing their wheat, barley, tobacco and other such crops due to intermittent electricity provision.
We hope Zesa is working on measures to alleviate this challenge as the summer cropping season fast approaches.
Furthermore, irrigation systems need to be put in place to augment rains, especially in dry areas or during drought periods.
The financial sector, though presently hamstrung by liquidity challenges, should come up with facilities to help the farmers reach their capacity.
Agribank, which has historically provided the bulk of funds to farmers has failed to do so for more than a decade now, hence the need to capacitate so it can perform its role adequately.
So much can be done in a very short space of time to transform the sorry state in the agricultural sector to one that can be a global case study if all stakeholders apply their minds and energy to it.
The economy has largely been agro-based and the poor performance of this sector has had a telling effect on the economy at large.
That Zimbabwe can return to its breadbasket status is no fallacy at all but it is a dream that can be realised with greater resolve.