Farmers capacitated ahead of planting season

By Byron Mutingwende

Melody Machuwaire (34) reckons that the Lowveld, particularly the Chibuwe area under Chipinge South District, has endured extreme weather events for more than a decade since Cyclone Eline devastated the area in the year 2000.

“Chibuwe is a hot area. Up to the 90s, under rain-fed agriculture, we used to grow crops like rapoko, sorghum and millet, which are drought resistant since the area receives erratic rainfall and is in climatic region 5. The soils are rich and under irrigation, people here grow beans, wheat, maize and tomatoes. All these crops usually get damaged by floods and farmers usually lose their investments in agriculture in the event of hailstorms, heavy winds or extremely high temperatures,” Chikangaise said.

Thanks to the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), farmers in the same situation with Chikangaise were invited to the 2016/17 Farmers Pre-Planting Meeting on the 20th of October 2016 under the theme, ‘Livelihoods Transformation through Small Scale Farming in Zimbabwe’.

The Pre-Planting Meeting brought together small-scale farmers and various agricultural stakeholders to discuss the opportunities, threats, challenges and opportunities in the agricultural sector with an overview of the 2016/17 farming season to maximise production by small-scale farmers.

The key issues discussed at the meeting centred on the Command Agriculture Scheme, promoting productivity, resource mobilisation and fair pricing and competition amongst small scale farmers, successes and challenges of crop diversification and climate change resistant seed varieties and the anticipated weather conditions around the country for the 2016/17 farming season.

The meeting served to close the agricultural educational gap by small-scale farmers in rural areas through information and experience sharing amongst the stakeholders.

Zimbabwean agriculture has of late witnessed unpredictable weather patterns (due to climate change) making planning for cropping very difficult for the small scale farmers. This has prompted a loud call for climate mitigation measures to counter and have resilience strategies.Below average yields/output has been the order of the day annually and this doesn’t bode well for a nation and economy that has agriculture as its backbone. Weather experts have predicted that the 2016/17 Summer season will be affected by the La Nina effect, which is the opposite of the El Nino effect experienced in the 2015/2016 farming season. The La Nino effect results in wetter than normal rainfall conditions in the Southern Hemisphere from December to February,” said Patricia Kasiamhuru, the ZIMCODD Executive Director.

Kasiamhuru said that the development calls for strategies to protect and enhance the livelihoods of the farmers and to ensure that small-scale farmers benefit from the 2016/17 agricultural Season.

ZIMCODD has been working with small-scale farmers in Checheche, Gokwe, Matobo, Domboshava and Goromonzi in an effort to support agricultural production.

A number of strategies have been implemented by ZIMCODD urging the farmers to diversify. To this end a crop diversification booklet has been produced and distributed to small-scale farmers in Chipinge, Checheche, Goromonzi, Matobo and Gokwe. The booklet informs farmers on the most viable options for crop diversification in the country’s respective regions.

To that end, the Director of Sidella Trading, Bridget Parham-field, said that crop diversification was important for sustainability and food security since there is an upsurge in the international demand on drought-resistant crops like sesame and pulses.

“Sidella is a commodity trading company in Harare, Zimbabwe. We contract small scale-farmers (approximately 6500) to grow various exportable crops for us, these being sesame, and cowpeas. Wee also have the capacity to purchase from them other crops such as sorghum, millet, groundnuts, velvet beans, okra and Jugo beans (Bambara nuts),” Parham-field said.

She encouraged the growing of such costs since they are produced from favourable input costs and help farmers learn climate-smart agriculture strategies like mulching and field hygiene, which includes destroying stalks after harvesting to avoid the spreading of diseases.

The Principal Meteorological Officer from the Meteorological Department, Vimbai Mamombe, said that adaptation and mitigation measures to climate change include water harvesting technologies like construction of dams; irrigation; climate change education; the growing of small grains and coming up with tailor-made climate forecasts.

In his presentation, Admire Mutizwa from the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) said that international trade contributes, to a greater extent, to the way farmers access markets to determine their production and net incomes as well as poverty levels.

Mutizwa said that cotton has fallen from a peak of above 300 000 tonnes to as low as 28 000 tonnes in Zimbabwe. Cotton is one of the commodities experiencing fierce controversy on the global trade platform. Domestic subsidies by developed countries (USA, EU, etc) and developing countries such as China and India are distorting prices of cotton.

Between 2010 and 2014, direct domestic subsidies (minimum support price, import quota system, maintaining local prices) increased from US3c and US18c per kilogram. Subsidies depress cotton prices: the negative correlation between the two is widely acknowledged by all stakeholders including the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC). In 2015, at the World Trade Organisation meeting held in Nairobi Kenya, a decision was made to immediately abolish export subsidies on cotton by developed countries while developing countries will do so by 1 January 2017,” Mutizwa said.

Mutizwa bemoaned the liberalisation of trade for having led to a situation whereby the Zimbabwean market is flooded with agricultural products from foreign producers.

“The imports, such as of tomatoes, vegetables, fruits have dressing price and market erosion effects to farmers.”

The economist added that the commercialisation of agriculture (producing for resale) integrated farmers into the international markets which are highly volatile (e.g tobacco and cotton), and where high value crops are being promoted.

“The system neglects the production of stable crops – grains in Zimbabwe’s case and leads to the neglect of the production of high nutritional crops such as pulses and cowpeas,” Mutizwa said.

He called for an increase in farmers’ voice on the agricultural effects of international trade, protection of the domestic producers, public financing to subsidize farmers and the training of agriculture-dependent individuals to understand better how international dynamics affect their production and incomes.