New farmers in dire straits

farmers newTHE contract is stark.
Expansive lash fields of tea, avocado and macademia shrubbery roll across hills hither and yonder. Intertwined with this sensational greenery, are patched fields of the same type of shrubs punctuated by struggling maize fields, raising eyebrows of any passerby.This is the state of farming in the agriculturally-rich Chipinge highlands where farmers resettled under the country’s land reform programme are struggling to prove their worth in an economy that is teetering on the brink.
New farmer, Elizabeth Dambamuromo, says since 2006, when she was allocated a piece of land at Morgenson Farm, she has been aspiring to be a top maize and macademia producer but as fate would have it, she has hardly gone beyond subsistence.

Dambamuromo delivered 42 tonnes of maize to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), expecting a pay cheque that would finance her 2013-2014 cropping season. But almost two months into the season she has not received a cent fom the US$15 876 she is expecting from GMB.

To finance her current small crop of maize and a modest nursery of macademia, she had to use part of her teaching salary as well as side-market some of her maize that had been reserved for home consumption.

“We are capable of farming. But we have very little resources, which is making life quite difficult for us new farmers,” said Dambamuromo.

Because of poor funding, farmers like Dambamuromo are missing on great opportunities to become agrarian revolutionaries simply because, according to Douglas Ncube, leadership in Zimbabwe’s agricultural landscape has been thinking more politically than strategically.

“Land reform is completely different from agrarian reform. Land reform is about owning land and agrarian reform is about production,” said Ncube, a local agricultural expert.
“Land reform lays the foundation for agrarian reform. To enjoy the fruits of a revolutionised agricultural sector there is need to embrace and endure transformation that is beyond seeing the reallocation of resources or power.

“The political force influencing economic governance decisions in the agricultural landscape has been clear, but what impact has this had on agricultural performance and the economy in general? Strategy is needed now to orient actions and decisions towards making the most out of the resources we are in possession of,” said Ncube who believes that the country may have missed the plot at the time of switching currencies in February 2009.

Ncube thus pointed out that when the country changed currencies people failed to appreciate that the defunct Zimbabwe dollar was completely different from the United States dollar and all the other currencies the country took on board as a means of exchange.

And because the country dollarised straight from hyperinflationary conditions, prices and the cost of services were never adjusted to match the levels of the assumed currencies such that the cost of production and labour has been discouraging, especially for new farmers, said Ncube.

Also dampening the spirits of farmers in Chipinge highlands is a changing climate that is heavily impacting on farming communities across the globe at a time when the new farmers have barely gotten off the ground. Without irrigation or the means to install the equipment, commercial farming has become a tough enterprise.

However, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), farmers need to quickly adapt to the changing climatic conditions if they wish to meet the rising global food demand expected to peak around 2050 when 60 percent of the world’s population would be living in cities, a situation that puts pressure on countries to increase food production by at least 50 percent.

Recently launching a project to support smallholder farmers in southern Africa to better manage climate-related risks to crop production and post-harvesting handling, FAO’s Zimbabwe representative, David Phiri, said whether climate change brings too little or too much rain. The world now needs farmers who can produce adequate and nutritious food under increasingly unpredictable climatic conditions with more frequent and severe droughts as well as floods and increased incidences of pests and diseases.

But with organisations like FAO targeting more vulnerable groups such as the small-holder communities, it will be a long and hard road for the new commercial farmers in the Chipinge highlands and elsewhere to increase food production.

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