THE US$29 million Zimbabwe Extension Support and Training (ZEST) project which the European Union (EU) has been funding for the past three years has now come to an end.
Two weeks ago, the EU announced that the project had been successfully completed with beneficiaries registering a 20 percent increase in food production.
It said ZEST had achieved its objective of empowering rural farmers and increasing agricultural productivity.
From February 2013 until the end of January this year, the EU — through its development agencies — provided technical support for small-scale farmers in Muzarabani, Chivi and Gutu districts that saw the farmers improving their crop and livestock skills.
The project was implemented by the German non-governmental organisation GIZ and Sustainable Agricultural Technology.
About 780 agricultural extension workers were involved in the project, which touched the lives of 60 000 smallholder farmers at a time when harsh weather, which has been brought by climate change, has been affecting crop production across southern Africa.
This year alone, government estimates that over three million Zimbabweans have been affected by drought following poor rains in the current agricultural season.
At least US$1,5 billion would be required for various humanitarian emergencies, including food importation, to relieve the affected people, most of whom are in remote areas.
The EU project sought to enable smallholder farmers to increase and improve farm input/resource-output efficiency through improved extension services.
“At least 50 percent of the supported households (about 60 000 households) have increased their quantities produced and/or value by 20 percent until December 2015 through improved extension services, irrigation systems and cultivation cycles,” the EU said.
“Livestock mortality in 50 percent of households with livestock decreased by 10 percent until December 2015,” added the EU.
The ZEST project supported small-scale farmers and farming groups to access markets for their produce through facilitating public-private partnerships. Its activities also included the provision of extensive training, resources and logistical support, coordination, demonstration sites as well as support for curriculum development at Mlezu Agricultural College, which is based in Kwekwe.
The ZEST project was one of the four programmes being funded to by former EU to support communal farmers in Zimbabwe.
When the project was officially launched in 2014, Aldo Dell’Ariccia, former head of the EU Delegation to Zimbabwe, said agriculture would remain one of the three focal sectors of the EU’s development cooperation with Zimbabwe under the 11th European Development Fund period 2014-2020.
“The sector remains of prime importance for the livelihoods of the large majority of ordinary Zimbabweans,” he said.
“In addition, agriculture is the major supplier of raw materials to industry for further processing, value addition and trade,” Dell’Ariccia said.
Technologies and expertise that help small holder farmers in Zimbabwe to increase food production are important for small holder farms. But these efforts by international organisations have recently been affected by funds in the wake of global economic crises that have hit the markets since 2008.
Some members of the EU have been battling a meltdown that started in Greece about four years ago. This has affected their ability to provide funding to important projects like ZEST.
Declining aid has also affected other social interventions like the provision of funding for sanitation projects, education and health, which are critical to save an increasing number of people who have been affected by job losses and general economic decline.
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