EDITORIAL COMMENT: Pfumvudza online platform a major upgrade Training was the hallmark of Pfumvudza and urban farmers had undergone training for them to have a full adoption of Pfumvudza principles.

The registration on an online platform of all farmers receiving inputs under Pfumvudza/Intwasa will not just clear out any odd spot of corrupt practice, and there is unlikely to be much considering the checks already in place, but as importantly allow instant follow up on productivity, marketing and the like.

From the very beginning of the mass Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme for the 2020-2021 season when the Presidential Inputs Scheme was ratcheted up to include farming systems as well as just inputs, corruption was largely cut out.

Farmers had to undergo the basic training through Agritex, a simple process, and then prepare their plots, which involved some serious hard work in planting the seed holes.

That had to be inspected by the local Agritex officer, and the inspection would include how many plots had been prepared.

So from the very beginning no one received inputs for just writing down a name. There had to be actual plots dug and a lot of the programme was reliant on the farmers who had done the digging insisting that they received their inputs without any diversions. 

And the presumption was that having done the hard work they were genuine and would plant the seed, apply the fertiliser and harvest the crops.

That seems to have been largely true although in tours by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission there have been reports of corrupt dealings. No one has stood up to say they dug their holes, but never got the inputs. 

The reports tend to be vaguer, that people who had not been digging received inputs rather than people who deserved them did not. 

While details are missing in such reports, the fact they are believed in some places means that the distribution system not only has to work well, but be seen to be working well.

Added to that there are now trials in progress over larger scale diversions of inputs by more powerful people than a small-scale farmer or a ward-level Agritex officer. 

Again in these cases it is important to note that word “trial”. No one is trying to hide any abuses under the carpet and it appears that the more senior Agritex officers have been insisting on correct procedures, even when faced with pressure from someone with power.

The online registration, and this can be done through a phone with data and hopefully by some sort of mobile device carried by the ward Agritex officer, creates the basic database at negligible cost. 

The certification of the necessary plot preparation, including the digging, can be added to each grower’s record, with all growers having a growers number.

The inputs can be assigned by type depending on area and farmer wishes over the optional crops, and just how many plots have been dug. 

And then the farmer needs to personally record their acceptance of the inputs. At this stage the distribution is all exceptionally transparent and every small bag of seed can be tied to a farmer.

The system though can continue. Farmers get top-up inputs, and those are recorded, and finally they harvest. And harvests need to be entered. At the moment most of the records deal with what is sold, but a lot of Pfumvudza/Intwasa harvests are retained on farms. 

The Pfumvudza/Intwasa farmers are supposed to keep records, but a lot of the outline and summary of those records will now be what is entered onto the online database. 

A farmer given a whole lot of inputs and then having a zero harvest record obviously needs to be investigated, and unless they can show their field was flooded in a cyclone or otherwise destroyed needs to explain before a magistrate what happened. But we do not expect many.

More importantly it will now be very easy for everyone in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development to easily see productivity and yields and work out which farmers are doing well, which need more help and who might be cheating. 

This electronic registration and monitoring of farmers receiving inputs is not new. 

The tobacco industry switched over after land reform from a small number of farmers on large estates and with personal relationships with their banks to the modern contract farming of tens of thousands of small-scale farmers on contract.

But this only really worked with the online registration used by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board and the use of the same system to track contracts, inputs, farmers and harvests. 

By going online and electronic the administrative costs were slashed and so the whole system could be made to work without farmers or contractors having to see their profits vanish in overhead costs.

That system has been built up over the last couple of decades into a really useful record of much of the industry, weeding out dishonest contractors and farmers, and creating the track records of the successful. The new Government scheme for Pfumvudza/Intwasa farmers can do the same.

It will be worthwhile to ensure this system can be expanded. Pfumvudza/Intwasa gives inputs for a maximum of five plots, and a lot of farmers are still in the process of expanding their operations to five plots.

But as more and more reach that limit then others can climb in, especially as the basic mechanisation is now starting.

Private contractors are at the moment largely concentrating on the A2 farmers, but with a decent record keeping system open to all can move into the small-holder sector as well. 

Probably their ideal farmer will be someone with five Pfumvudza/Intwasa plots for two years, certified productivity and certified deliveries. If some oilseed company, for example, then wants to contract for three plots of sunflower that contract and information can go onto the same database so everyone who needs to know can see what is happening. 

These sort of public-private partnerships can extend to information, and we could perhaps see the private inputs being delivered with the public-sector inputs and the Agritex officers inspecting for everyone’s benefit. 

At this stage smallholding farming will be commercial and working well.

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