Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs III: irrigators

Gardening has always been part of farming practice in Zimbabwe’s rural areas. Usually a small river bank plot, or an area near the home, has been planted with vegetables for home consumption. Few farmers in the communal areas scale up to more commercial operations, as horticulture requires inputs – notably water – and marketing at scale is always a challenge given the perishability of most vegetables. However in recent years in the new resettlements there has been a growth of small-scale commercial horticulture. This has arisen due to changes in the costs of irrigation technology, the availability of water, and the opportunities that changing markets post-land reform offer.

In the dryland settings of Masvingo, irrigation – particularly for horticultural crops – is essential. Yet state-led irrigation investment in Zimbabwe has been limited in recent years, despite the universally recognised priority. Instead, people have taken things into their own hands and are making use of low cost irrigation technology to set up irrigation systems in their farms and gardens. The expansion of small-scale irrigation has been substantial, and with this a variety of new horticultural production businesses.

In 2014 we undertook a survey of such commercial horticulture enterprises across our sites in Masvingo province. We identified 15 such enterprises of varying scales. Unlike the small ‘womens’ gardens’ that dominated vegetable production before, these were largely run by men, although always with strong involvement of their wives and other family members. There was often a gendered differentiation in roles, with women often engaged in processing of vegetables, including drying, while men oversaw the transport and sales of vegetables to town. There was a cluster of such enterprises discovered in the Wondedzo area, making use of the availability of water in the Muturikwi river and the proximity to Masvingo town for marketing.

One such irrigation entrepreneur has previously been profiled, and appears, along with his wives, in one of our films produced under the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project. Below we offer two more case studies, illustrating some of the common patterns and challenges observed.

Case 1: I live in Clare A1 resettlement area. My irrigated area is about 1.5ha. I started this project early 2004. We used to have a co-operative garden back in the communal area, before we came to the resettlement, so I carried the project from there. I invested a lot in this business. We sold our one oxen which costs $700 and two sheep costing $80 each giving me a total of $860 from livestock sales. The other money came from my husband`s basic salary, as he is an extension worker. I started this project with capital of $3000. There were various costs including: land clearance ($200-00), pump purchase and its transport from Harare ($1200-00) and pipes including transport ($250-00). Later I also improved most of my structures and managed to construct a tank (costing $1105) and purchased another engine. I use my 10 horsepower diesel engine and 5 horsepower petrol engine in case of emergency. I bought them from Harare at ATM. I also bought some of my pipes in Masvingo at Irrigation Services in 2011 when I finished constructing my tank.

My plot has green maize (0.5ha), tomatoes (0.25ha), Potatoes (0.25ha), Onions (0.3ha) and Okra (0.2h). Costs include seed, fertiliser (both top and basal), pesticides, trellis and fence wire, and transport to get the inputs, from Masvingo or Gutu growth point – Farm and City or Masvingo Farm Supplies. I use family labour and one permanent worker who is paid $90 per month, but lives as a member of the family and eats with us, and he is provided accommodation too. At peak times I also hire in labour. For my temporary labourers I only pay $5 per day, and when weeding maize I pay them $1 per line of about 50m. For health and safety precaution I bought protective clothing like overalls, gloves, raincoat, masks, gumboots, when using chemicals at some time I also bought milk to drink after using chemicals. For protective clothing I supply my worker with a work suit for performing his duties.

My major products are sold to the local farmers and some to the nearby Rufaro boarding school, as well as at Chatsworth Township. It is very difficult for me to calculate the numbers sold per crop but what I really know is the cash I got from each crop is at least $500-00, meaning I earn about $2000 each year from the business. I usually produce crops at off-season to take advantage of increased demand and better prices.

Case 2: Presently I am using an area of about 0.8 hectares of my A1 farm in Wondedzo area for irrigation purposes which I started in August 2013. My water source for irrigation is the nearby Mutirikwi river. Currently I have one petrol pump – a 6.5 horse power Nexus model – which uses 75mm pipes and I use flood irrigation. So far I have only managed to grow two crops which are green mealies and tomatoes because I am still in the process of learning from others who have been irrigators before. But as time goes on and through exposure and training we get from Agritex (the extension agency), I shall venture into other crop production such as butternuts, potatoes, cabbages and carrots. The major market for my previous crop produce was Masvingo’s Chitima market, where I sold the bulk of produce. The next most important market was individual buyers in Rujeko township.

I invested about $600-00 into the project. I am a retired soldier, so I used my pension. The operations which include land clearance as well as fencing, was done by me and my family. I have one labourer who I pay $70 per month. Other benefits which we give to the employee include free accommodation and free food. I take him as my son because he shares accommodation with my sons. He eats what he wants to eat as a family member. For his health and safety, I give my employee gumboots, a work suit and face masks /respirators which he uses during production operations in the field. The costs for the project were barbed wire ($195), pump ($220) and piping ($380). I bought all these materials from N.J in Masvingo town.

Inputs for my 0.25ha maize (green mealies) crop include:

Seed-5kg =$12-00   source = Farm and City

1 x 50kg-AN=$36-00   source=Farm and City

Combat 250g=$5-00   source= Musa Hardware

Fuel 30 litres=$37-00 source= Service Station

Total expenditure – $90-00

For basal fertilizers, I use livestock manure to save cash. We sell green mealies in Masvingo Town`s Chitima market (5000 cobs), as well as vendors who come to the farm (1000 cobs) and about 750 cobs were sold locally. This fetched a gross income of about $2250, with the marketing period only lasted about 2 weeks at $1-00 for 3 cobs.

Inputs for the tomato crop include:

Seed 3400 seedlings=$75-00, source =Empire seed-Harare

Compound D 1x50kg=$33-00, manure, source=Farm supply- Masvingo

Top dressing 1x50kg =$36-00, source=Farm supply-Masvingo

Chemicals 50g Mancozeb=$7-00, source=Farm supply- Masvingo

400ml Lamdercure =$12-00, source=Farm supply-Masvingo

200g Acetamac=$4-00, source=Musa Hardware- Masvingo

Fuel 60 litres =$75-00, source=Service station

Total expenditure =$164-00

I managed to sell 49 crates in Masvingo Chitima market and earned a gross income of about $1135 and on average a crate of tomatoes was going for $23.

Some of the income obtained from the irrigation project we use it to pay children`s school fees as they learn in boarding schools which are a bit expensive. From the time we started the project we also got a little extra money to buy food during the drought and also for re-capitalisation purposes.

There are several challenges which I encounter in the project cycle which negatively affect my profits which include charges imposed by the city council for one to market produce at Chitima market; for example $1 per two hours for outside vendors. Transport here is also eroding much of our profits; for example $30 per single trip charged by local transporters. There are no storage facilities where we can rent over-night at the market, so sometimes we have to ship produce back to the farm.

In the future, I need to expand the size of the irrigable plot to about two hectares such that I will divide the land into four portions of 0.5 ha each in order to practise good rotation as well as increase production. I also need to buy another engine of a bigger size – 9.5 horsepower – to lessen the challenge of engine breakdowns. In order to market my produce I will need my own pickup truck.

A number of themes emerge from the examples of irrigation entrepreneurs we interviewed, highlighted by these two case studies:

  • Operations are relatively small, usually on 1-2 ha of land. Production is intensive, and often using significant amounts of chemicals
  • Irrigation is essential, but pressure on water sources is intense as horticulture takes off in an area.
  • The availability of cheap (Chinese) pumps has revolutionised the opportunities for irrigation. No longer is a ‘group garden’ approach required with a donor paying for the pump. These are all individual enterprises.
  • Entry costs (because of low pump prices especially) are relatively low, and can be afforded by a wide array of people, using crop/livestock sales or retirement/remittance income to get going.
  • Most are providing new employment, both permanent and temporary, although family labour dominates.
  • Crop diversity is limited (green maize and tomatoes dominate), with problems of production gluts, although some more established enterprises have begun to diversify, seeking out niche markets, and managing production to take advantage of seasonal production and price cycles.
  • Advice is sought from neighbours – particularly in the Wondedzo irrigation cluster – but also from Agritex, the government extension agency, who seem to be quite involved in horticulture production support.
  • Processing and added value sales (drying, pickling etc.) is limited, and sales are mostly fresh (with big problems of perishability at peak times)
  • Market access is crucial and it is the sites with smaller distances and good road connections (and relatively low transport costs) that take off.
  • Marketing includes sales at ‘town markets’ (both informal and those regulated by municipal councils), to vendors (who come to the farm to buy), to supermarkets (relatively few, and only those with transport who can provide in bulk in a timely manner), and to local consumers in the area.
  • Net income varies, but exceeds $1000 per annum in all cases, rising to perhaps $10000 or more. This income is significant in the wider livelihood portfolio.

The three blogs in this series have shown how the new resettlement areas post land reform are providing the context for a new dynamic of agricultural commercialisation. It is small scale, but is generating profits, supplying markets and providing employment. It does not involve everyone, as there are entry costs to each of these enterprises. Men certainly dominate pig and larger scale horticulture production, but broiler production also involves a significant number of women. In contrast to the ‘project’ focused development support of the past, these are mostly individual enterprises run by families, but hiring in labour. Technological innovation (and changing cost structures) – most dramatically around irrigation pumps – is important, as are input supply networks, product markets and transport linkages to ensure that produce is sold at good prices. Market connections often remain underdeveloped, and market costs (notably transport) and other challenges were frequently mentioned in interviews. Opportunities for added value production remain limited, and most entrepreneurs are only involved in primary production, rather than processing etc. Upgrading of enterprises is ongoing, and we have seen these grow over the years, and particularly since the stabilisation of the economy in 2009, when market interactions with a dollarized currency became possible.

The new agricultural entrepreneurs on the new resettlements are definitely a group worth watching, as the agrarian landscape continues to change in Zimbabwe’s rural areas. The new commerical agriculture is small-scale, dynamic and highly entrepreneurial, and is changing both production and markets.

This work was undertaken under the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project, and the field research was led by BZ Mavedezenge and Felix Murimbarimba.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared first on Zimbabweland

1 Comment

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One response to “Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs III: irrigators

  1. am

    A useful series showing meaningful income under dynamic entrepreneurism. Proven entrepreneurs, with good skill bases and diligence, should be targeted by government. They can be allocated more substantial plots with irrigation for further production. I think that it is Gollin, and no doubt others that emphasise economic growth through agricultural growth in what are initially agricultural societies. The state can help by allocation of land as above and leaving the people to get on with it themselves.

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