53rd SADC PF Assembly focuses on modernising agriculture for food security, employment creation

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The 53rd Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) Assembly has roared to life in Tanzania and will focus on the Theme “Modernising Agriculture to Address Food Insecurity and Youth Unemployment in the SADC Region: The Role of Parliaments” and is running from 2 to 8 July 2023.

In his presentation at the meeting, Hon JFN Mudenda, Speaker of Parliament of Zimbabwe expressed gratitude for participation at the 53rd SADC Parliamentary Forum Assembly.

“Thank you, Rt. Hon. Dr. Ackson, the host Speaker, for your Parliament’s gracious and boundless hospitality. Zimbabwe knows how daunting the responsibility is to be the host after Zimbabwe twice successfully hosted the Assembly and will do so in the near future. Congratulations to the United Republic Tanzanian Parliament, and through it, to our Guest of Honour Her Excellency Dr Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, founding fathers by the illustrious and iconic African continental freedom fighter, Mzee Julius Kambarage Nyerere.

“Lest we forget, Mzee Nyerere was one of the luminary founds of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) together with the selfless visionary leaders such as Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, Leopold Senghor, Joshua Nkomo, and the boisterous Kwame Nkhuruma. Need I not remind you that it was Mzee Nyerere and the Tanzanian people who bore the brunt of the Southern Africa liberation war by housing the Liberation Committee here under the aegis of the Frontline States, the precursor of the Southern African Development Community? Today Mzee Nyerere, Kaunda, and Sir Seretse Khama must be smiling in their graves seeing us here congregated under the banner of SADC PF soon to be a Regional Parliament as an organ of SADC! That is why some of us experience political tearful eyes and nostalgic memories of our liberation struggle when each time we step on Tanzanian soil, especially here in Arusha. May the Roman Catholic Church hasten to canonize Mwalimu Nyerere as a lay Catholic saint, a consummated human being with a golden heart of humanity, UBUNTU personified. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” Hon Mudenda said.

He said the 53rd SADC PF Assembly’s theme of “Modernising Agriculture to address Food Insecurity and Youth Unemployment in the SADC Region: The Role of Parliaments” is ingenious and pertinent in the current socio-economic agricultural ecosystem among SADC countries.

He alluded to the irony and bane of Africa where despite the continent boasting of 60% of arable land, its agricultural sector remains dwarfed.

“Why? Our agricultural sector lacks mordernisation and mechanisation in Africa in general and in the SADC region in particular. It is imperative, therefore, that the SADC region speedily embraces the Smart Agriculture Ecosystem. The region should urgently enter the data agricultural revolution. To that end, Ousmane Badiane, the Executive Chairman of AKADEMIYA 2063 in Kigali opines that: From automated tractors and temperature and moisture sensors, all the way to aerial imagery and drones, farmers in most advanced agricultural systems are in an increasingly digital world, with a range of vital data available at the touch of a button. Yet despite increasing threats such as climate change and the spread of new pests and diseases, farmers in Africa continue to have limited access to data (June 2023 African Business Magzine, pp22)”.

“SADC, therefore, needs this technological shift more than ever. These Smart agricultural technologies would ensure that smallholder farmers who comprise 60% of the farming population access them. In Zimbabwe like many other SADC member states, agriculture is now the mainstay of the economy as it has a positive multiplier effect on economic growth measured by its 24% contribution to the Gross Domestic Product, employment creation, food security, and poverty reduction, export earnings and industrial development through agro-industries.

The country currently has approximately 195 000 Ha under functional irrigation and has the potential to irrigate about 2 million hectares and this is a visible potential for boosting agriculture in the country in order to achieve food sovereignty and sustainable agro-industries. The government is sustaining the highly mechanised irrigation schemes by providing a priority dependable energy supply, including renewable energy.

National Farm mechanisation facilities have been accelerated. To that end, tractor statistics have traditionally been used as an indicator of the mechanization level. As of 2021, Zimbabwe had 7,895 tractors in the country representing a 19.7% mechanization rate. Collaboration and partnerships with the private sector increased the number of tractors to the current estimate of 12,800 units, representing a 32% mechanization rate. Similarly, the combine harvester fleet also grew by 60% from 171 to 274 units against a national requirement of 600 units.

The Government of Zimbabwe estimates to surpass the 60% agricultural mechanization target in all critical machinery and equipment by 2030. Transforming the agriculture sector through ICT technologies and any other innovations is a perfect condition to ameliorate the rest of our economies in Africa let alone in the SADC region. As such, Africa and indeed SADC should roll out inclusive broad-based interventions to achieve the consummation of SDGs, Malabo Protocol, the SADC Agro-Industrialisation Agenda, and largely the Africa Agenda 2063 as well as the transformative Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement which anchors intra-Africa continental trade matrix. Consequently, the mechanisation of the agriculture sector has resulted in surplus production of corn and in particular wheat in the past cropping seasons. Zimbabwe no longer imports wheat and other grains from Ukraine and Russia. With the increase in phosphate production, Zimbabwe will be self-sufficient in its fertilizer needs in the next two years.

The government of Zimbabwe has made tremendous strides in capacitating extension officers/ frontline cadres both technically as well as materially by way of tools of trade in order to enhance the data revolution spread. The support includes the following:

  • Tablets for e-extension and online in-service training. The tablets are useful in interfacing with farmer groups in their platforms. They are also handy in online training sessions, reporting, and data collection.
  • Refresher and re-orientation courses and sitting for obligatory exams twice a year. The plan is to professionalize the extension service in due course. All this is meant to enable the frontline staff to deliver full services, which will capacitate farmers to achieve high economic yields and returns.
  • Trainings-of-Trainers (ToT) Programme targeting extension officers by subject matter specialists.
  • Monthly allocation of airtime and data bundles for ease of communication and receiving key extension information targeting farmers and technical capacitation & backstopping through online In-service training.
  • Motorization of all field-based extension officers. The motorbikes are part of the Government’s efforts to address mobility challenges that have been crippling their efforts to effectively cover farmers in need of their technical services countrywide. This intervention has helped to optimize the farmer: extension officer contact ratio.
  • Each licensed worker is entitled to a motorbike with up to 30 litres of fuel allocated every month.
  • Each extension officer is given PPE gear, including rider suits, kidney belts, work suits, raincoats and safety shoes.

Furthermore, the Zimbabwe Government is seized with youth empowerment through mainstreaming in agriculture. Youths account for 60% of Zimbabwean’s population. To harness this demographic dividend, all sub-sector initiatives recognise the role of youth in agriculture. Mainstreaming of youth in all of the key areas enables Zimbabwe to leapfrog into an upper middle-income status by 2030 through agric-led economic development. In that regard, the agriculture sector presents significant opportunities that youths can tap into. Thus, the youths have benefited from the following initiatives rolled out by the Ministry responsible for agriculture:

  • 2 500 Youths benefited from Piglet Scheme in 2020 from the 9000 piglets distributed
  • 8 000 were Contracted under Command Agriculture Summer Season 2020/2021 season
  • 2021 Winter Wheat Season, 360 have registered
  • 75 000 participated in Pfumvudza/Intwasa, and on average 9 375 benefitted per province
  • 50 000 benefitted seed from Bayer and World Vision in the 2020/2021 season
  • 400 youths trained in agronomic practices, export markets, global certification gap, agricultural legislation, animal health, livestock production, soil fertility management, plant protection, community owned genebanks and indigenous crops management, veld and pasture management as well as financial literacy,
  • 300 Youths trained by FAO under Green Jobs for Rural Youth Projects and Youth Desk coordinated programme (Male 150; Female 150).

Hon Mudenda said it is admitted that all these efforts fall short of the intended youth demographic dividend. One reason for the slower uptake of the youth in agriculture is the youth’s desire for white-collar jobs. The mindset needs decolonisation.

The role of Parliament in mordernising agriculture has been phenomenal. The Parliament of Zimbabwe amended the Constitution to make the expropriation of land for agricultural use by Zimbabweans a fundamental human right — the right to land.

“Related legislation on agriculture has been amended to comply with this constitutional provision as a condition precedent for enhanced agricultural productivity. Furthermore, Parliament has endeavoured to ratify protocols that relate to agriculture such as the Malabo, Abuja, and the SADC Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP), and where possible domesticated them. Above all, Parliament has mainstreamed agriculture in the National Budget so that the modernisation of agriculture through sustained mechanisation remains continually robust.

The African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) is spearheading genome editing as a modern technology with a view of optimising agriculture through science.

AUDA-NEPAD’s head of delegation, Mrs. Florence Nazare, speaking to this publication in Maputo last week, said genome editing technology is a relatively new collection of tools in molecular biology in which genetic material in a living organism is altered, replaced, or deleted in a precise and targeted manner at predetermined locations in order to attain some desired and enhanced characteristics. It is increasingly assuming an important space in the technological and regulatory discourse as it provides tools with

  • greater simplicity;
  • accuracy and development speed;
  • low cost compared to other techniques as it reduces the breeding time needed to produce a new variety of crop or breed of animal, thereby reducing research and development costs; and is
  • suitable for use by more players (smaller labs and companies, public and private institutions).
  1. What can Genome Editing Technology be used for?

Genome editing technology is being used for crops such as rice, tomato, maize, sorghum, sugarcane, soybean and potato for:

  • Increased crop yields
  • Higher nutrient content and better food quality
  • Reduced use of pesticides thereby increasing food safety
  • Resistance to pests and diseases
  • Resistance to drought and greater opportunity to conserve water, which increases agricultural productivity;
  • Reduced cost for food due to low cost of production and
  • Ultimately greater food security
  • In animals such as poultry, sheep, goat, cattle and pigs, genome editing technique is used to:
  • Increase disease resistance;
  • Enhance adaptation to farming or environmental conditions,
  • Increase muscle mass and milk production and
  • Enhanced animal welfare.
  1. What are the Potentials and Prospects of Genome Editing in the Context of African Agriculture?

Genome editing has the potential to leapfrog Agricultural productivity in Africa. Typically it will reduce the application of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, among others on crops, which will reduce the cost of production and increase the efficiency and competitiveness of African farmers. Additionally, less chemical use in production has the potential to reduce the risk of chemicals leaching from soils into water bodies and also safeguard the environment. For Africa, genome editing represents an opportunity to address a range of agricultural constraints, including those associated with developing durable crops resistant to diseases, and pests as well as the development of climate-resilient crops. The technology is consistent with the ideals of the African Union Agenda 2063 as it seeks to employ the use of science, technology, and innovation to make Africa’s food systems more resilient, sustainable, modernized, and ultimately make the continent more food secure.