Community gardens must maintain constant supplies to retain markets
RECENTLY, the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) announced a 100 percent breakthrough in its search for lucrative markets for produce being churned out in community gardens that were established under the Presidential Rural Development Programme.
The markets that AMA is talking about here are not the roadside or farm gate types that take produce of any quality and quantity.
AMA is talking about huge supermarkets – major retail outlets like OK Zimbabwe, Pick and Pay and Spar Zimbabwe that boast of an international presence and flavour, which means the produce has to be of the highest quality with supply lines always buzzing with activities.
These markets do not need to wake up one day to empty shelves with the farmers failing to raise the required quantities.
It goes without saying that the Government’s decision to mandate AMA with finding markets for fresh produce from the community gardens is beginning to pay off with such breakthroughs obviously bringing in steady incomes for the participants.
The farmers now need to make sure there is consistency in their supply patterns and do a lot of market research working hand in glove with Agritex, AMA and the business community.
On the one hand, AMA must not restrict its search for markets to big retail outlets locally only but must look even beyond the borders and capitalise on the fact that Zimbabwean farm produce is in demand because of the sustainable ways of production that farmers use.
This requires AMA to even approach the national trade development and promotion organisation, ZimTrade for market intelligence.
It is not a secret that ZimTrade has information on where particular products are wanted and the potential business opportunities that exist for the local producers.
The farmers participating in the project must play their part effectively and make sure they variety of crops at different stages of development growing throughout the year to satiate demand.
Once they establish themselves to be reliable, they will start enjoying the benefits.
The fundamental social benefit of such gardens stems from their direct contributions to household food security by increasing availability, accessibility, and utilisation of food products while bringing in an income.
Produce from the gardens give households unrestricted access to fresh food sources in both rural and urban locales, which enables the country to also reduce food insecurity and diseases cause by micronutrient deficiencies.
The economic benefits of the gardens go beyond food and nutritional security and subsistence, especially for resource-poor families.
They contribute to income generation, improved livelihoods, and household economic welfare and promote entrepreneurship and rural development, which is one of the country’s targets as we march towards 2030.
If run properly, community gardens can be mechanisms for averting poverty and act as a source of income for subsistence families.
Although they are in most cases regarded as subsistence-low production systems, they can be structured to be more efficient commercial enterprises by growing high-value crops and animal husbandry.
This is a fact that beneficiaries under the President’s insightful programmes should realise and appreciate.
The Presidential Rural Development Programme is the flagship of the Rural Development 8. 0 interventions which was launched in Mangwe in December 2021 by the President.
It is targeting, among other interventions, to drill one borehole in each of the 35 000 rural villages in the country and establishing a commercial one-hectare garden in each of the 35 000 villages – giving 10 fruit trees and 50 sweet potato vines per household.
At least three million households are set to benefit from the programme.
Sipambi horticulture garden in Masvingo, for instance, is already benefiting from AMA’s aggressive search for markets following the deal they thrashed with top retail outlets that were impressed by the quality of the farmers’ produce.
Sipambi horticulture garden is set to be among the pioneers to trade with big supermarkets after the introduction of the project by the Government.
They now have to make sure the retail outlets get their requirements without fail if the dream to empower the rural smallholder farmer through agriculture is to become a reality in the not-too-distant future.
Prior to this, the farmers had been selling their leaf vegetables to Bondolfi Teacher’s College and Chitima mass market in Masvingo and Chivi District respectively.
The success rate in terms of market linkages is 100 percent after AMA managed to establish a ready market for all the crops being grown at Sipambi horticulture garden with.
Mass market and retail outlets are expected to be key takers of the commodities. This ensures that there are no losses that usually ruin most small-scale farmers’ efforts to do market gardening successfully.
Essentially, community garden projects such as Sipambi serve as the roots of food security and community health, as they are owned and managed collectively.
They are not only practical sources of food but they also develop communities, bring new opportunities, hope and a connection to others and traditional life.
Community gardens are a tool for empowerment and can easily change lives in the communities running them.
One advantage they have is that critical assistance reaches more people while communal use of resources like dams is made possible.
The Government has since introduced a programme to drill a borehole in each of the country’s 35 000 villages, as a way of ensuring that the projects do not falter because of water challenges.
Communities participating in the projects find it easy to manage the environment compared to those trying to do it individually while procurement of basic farming needs such as inputs becomes manageable too.
Farmers can acquire them in bulk at cheaper prices while organised marketing of produce also becomes feasible with farmers negotiating for prices as a group.
This in a way kills the issue of farmers being price takers yet they should be fixing prices for their products in ways that enable them to break even after the sales.
They are the ones who know how much they would have invested in the production process, which makes it crucial for them to have a say in whatever prices that are later fixed for the crops.
Garden activities wield the potential to generate incomes as well as act as sources of employment for the unemployed.
The potential to improve household, community and national food and nutrition security through garden activities is high if issues of water availability, cost and availability of inputs, marketing and farmer empowerment are addressed.
However, these projects, like many other things done communally, have their own challenges – challenges that may easily include management, which can be less effective if members do not plan astutely or if there is no management structure to run the affairs of the project.
Usually too many contributions financially or even in kind may frustrate participants while internal disagreements can have negative effects on development and too much bureaucracy in decision making stalling progress on the other hand.
There is also the problem of personality clashes in such projects given the stark reality that when people work closely together there are bound to be differences of opinion, jealousy and many others.