Our film series Making Markets: Land Reform, Agriculture and New Local Economies in Zimbabwe that we launched last year focused on beef, horticulture and tobacco. These are well known crops in Zimbabwe. But commercial success generated by smallholder agriculture is happening in other less traditional crops too.
Recently I came across a video of a project in Nyanga focused on the growing of chillies on contract (watch it below). It tells a very similar story to our cases: vibrant commerical agriculture linked to markets, and supported through contracting arrangements. Group arrangements in production and marketing help, alongside a guaranteed buyer offering decent prices, as well as that critical ingredient, finance. In the case of chillies local businesses add value to produce a range of products including chili sources and pastes. The crop is also sold internationally, reaching distant markets as far as the USA. As the film shows, a 0.2ha plot can result in a $1000 income stream. The bank teller in the local town, the film claims, is kept busy banking farmers’ receipts.
This example has been facilitated by an external project. There are always risks with this, as we have seen in countless failed NGO and donor projects in the past. Let’s hope that they thought through the implications for long-term business sustainability, and that farmers do not become over-reliant on a production system that will inevitably have ups and downs. The commitment of only a small land area means that the farmers will no doubt have other crops being grown, and the chilli farming is only one part of a wider set of enterprises on and off farm. This is important for longer term livelihood resilience, something that perhaps can be questioned in the over-reliance on tobacco (one of the crops focused on in our films) across large swathes of the tobacco. A decline in global demand, a drop in price, a collapse in credit finance, a withdrawal of competitive contractors could all have devastating consequences.
Patterns of commercialisation in agriculture are diverse, but some key ingredients are necessary. These include a strong and reliable market, access to cheap finance, good quality control, market intelligence and the ability to lower costs through good location, cooperative organisation and so on. The Nyanga chilli project has all the elements. Check out the video here: