EDITORIAL COMMENT : Smart Insiza farming investment shows the way

05 Jul, 2022 - 00:07 0 Views
EDITORIAL COMMENT : Smart Insiza farming investment shows the way Completion of the Government-funded irrigation project is scheduled for this monthend, with most of the work including drawing electricity some 9km away, the setting up of two centre pivots on two different fields and a new pump station, is already in place. 

The Herald

The group of Insiza irrigation farmers who have worked out an arrangement with an investor to build a maize mill and a Lucerne processing mill in West Nicholson, mills which they will supply with the crops grown on their Atherstone irrigation scheme, shows the arrangement that Zimbabwe and its farmers need.

The irrigation scheme had been down for about a decade, with the tiny bit left functioning just enough for the farmers to grow family vegetables.

This lack of maintenance was increasingly common under the old dispensation.

However, a group of farmers and business people in Cape Town saw the potential for something a lot better than just a resuscitated irrigation scheme. Fixing the water supply was just the first stage.

That provided the raw materials for what the Cape Town group saw as the real investment, milling maize that could be sold to local communities, presumably at a discount from the major city millers since delivery trucks did not have to drive half-way across Zimbabwe, and the bigger cash crop, lucerne.

Farmers happy; investors happy; customers happy. It is a good combination.

The farmers do not lose out since they have an assured market for their produce, and an assurance that the irrigation scheme will now be maintained and even expanded.

It appears from what they say that they even have a stake in the profits generated by the maize mills and the lucerne processing.

The rotation of maize and lucerne makes a lot of sense. Lucerne is a legume, so while growing pumps nitrogen into the soil, but maize notoriously needs nitrogen-rich soils.

Halving the fertiliser input obviously makes the maize a lot more profitable. So the whole deal appears to be something where everyone wins, and wins big.

Even the customers win. Maize is tricky to grow most years in Matabeleland South, since the rainfall is not wonderful, and cattle farmers are always looking for a decent stockfeed that does not require vast sums to buy.

So there is a ready market for local maize meal in the district and quality lucerne grown under irrigation and properly dried and processed can easily compete against the sacks of stockfeed processed in Harare factories and trucked around the country.

We have nothing against South African investors coming in to do the hard slog of finding a suitable investment, meeting the farmers and getting them on board as enthusiastic partners. They did well, very well, and deserve the rewards of their initiative and success.

But the investors also show the way for Zimbabweans with capital.

Too many Zimbabweans with capital prefer to stash this away in a US dollar nostro account, or play the property and equity markets, or even engage in arbitraging between interbank and black market exchange rates.

Working out how to start a new business that makes profits and boosts the economy, while converting a group of farmers sitting in the ruins of an irrigation scheme into moderately prosperous business people is something that outsiders with more sense can do.

Yet the Atherstone farmers were not the only farmers sitting on irrigable land with a dam just upstream but no connected water supply.

We have carried stories about older schemes in the same boat, although the Government is now fixing these up.

We also carry stories about the new dams, Tokwe Mukosi in the Lowveld which holds the largest interior lake, and which spills now in the rainy season, and the new Gwayi-Shangani dam to be finished this year, and which will create the third largest interior lake.

Even with the best will in the world, and the Second Republic has that will, it will take some years to build up the required infrastructure so that all the farmers near these dams can get the full benefit of the water.

And even then they will need to look for crops to grow and markets that will buy the produce.

What the Insiza arrangement does is to put the whole lot together: An investor who wants to process agricultural produce into products that can be sold, a lake just sitting there, farmers who want to push ahead with what they do best, that is grow things that people want to buy, and a ready market for both the raw materials for the processing plant plus some sort of partnership that sees the farmers make a bit more with the investors getting their just returns.

We have little doubt that the Government will welcome, with enthusiasm, investment by our own agri-industries, or new investors who reckon they can establish a new agri-industry, and who are willing to work with farmers who want to farm with secure markets for suitable crops plus a bit of cream from the value addition.

And from the Insiza example it does not appear that a suitable investment needs vast sums.

Two maize mills, three lucerne processors and a staff of four is not exactly a giant industry, but it is one that makes a large difference to several dozen families, provides decent markets for farmers and goods for Zimbabwean customers, and provides a just and reasonable return for the investor.

A few score, even several hundred, such investments and a lot of rural areas are transformed, a lot of farming families are suddenly respectable middle-class citizens, and a lot of demand by Zimbabwean consumers and customers is being met.

A development investment does not need to cover tens of thousands of hectares and absorb tens of millions of US dollars.

President Mnangagwa keeps talking about development one step or one brick at a time. And he is right.

When you build a house you need a lot of bricks, but each brick is laid individually by the bricklayer and the house, even the mansion, arises “one brick at a time”.

What we see in Insiza is some smart Cape Town farmers laying a number of bricks, but what they are doing can be done by others, and some of those others can be smart Zimbabweans wanting to make money in Zimbabwe.

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