Tag Archives: extension

Ten priorities for getting agriculture moving in Zimbabwe

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REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Agriculture is taking centre stage in plans for the revival of Zimbabwe’s ailing economy under the new leadership of Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Getting agriculture moving in Zimbabwe is a big task. The radical land reform of 2000 has left many outstanding challenges; not least the importance of compensating former farm owners. But the biggest challenge is that, with new ownership patterns, the agricultural sector has a much more diffuse base. Today there are many small to medium sized farms, rather than a few major players.

This has implications for what Mnangagwa does next. What are the top priorities for agriculture, and what can be learnt from the challenges faced since the land reform?

The research

Research we’ve done over the past 18 years provides some useful pointers. We have been tracking what has happened to land reform farms across Zimbabwe, with sites in Masvingo (in the dry south-east), in Mvurwi (north of Harare) and in Matobo (in Matabeleland). We have been looking at both smallholder production (in so-called A1 areas) and medium-scale commercial farms (so-called A2 allocations), as well as outgrower arrangements in lowveld sugar estates.

The results have been surprising. Despite the woeful lack of support, the smallholders have done reasonably well. Most are producing surpluses and reinvesting in their farms. Around two thirds have produced more food than just for subsistence in nearly all years that we’ve conducted the research. In Mvurwi, tobacco dominates, and the smallholder-led tobacco boom has brought significant investment, both on and off-farm.

For their part larger landholdings have struggled. Lack of finance capital for many has meant they have not got off the ground and some have significant areas of under-utilised land, with infrastructure in disrepair.

The exceptions are those operating under contract arrangements with estates. These farmers have done relatively well because they’ve been supported and finance has been guaranteed. New contracting and joint venture arrangements are emerging in some areas, but much more needs to be done.

Ten priorities for agricultural development

Drawing on this experience, below I suggest ten priorities for getting agriculture moving once the first tasks of paying compensation, undertaking a land audit and establishing an efficient land administration system are complete.

Land tenure

Land tenure security should be assured through issuing 99-year leases for larger land reform farms and permits for smaller farms. This should be complemented by clear regulations to avoid land concentration and to facilitate women’s access to land. This can be achieved through a multiform tenure system based on trusted, secure property relations.

Finance

Getting private bank finance flowing is essential. Bankable leases will help, as will the acceptance of a range of forms of collateral by finance institutions. State assurances and the building of trust will be key.

Partnerships

Partnerships and joint ventures will be significant for some larger farms and certain crops, where external finance and expertise are essential. Already Chinese involvement in tobacco production is proving to be important. Opening opportunities for the return of highly skilled former white farmers will be significant too. Regulations to ensure such partnerships are truly joint and involve the transfer of skills are vital.

Government loans

Government loans for agriculture are currently offered through the “command agriculture” programme. Focusing on larger farms with irrigation infrastructure, it has shown some success in the past season. But such programmes should not be abused for political ends. And it’s essential that loans are fully repaid.

Access to markets

Linking diverse producers to markets is essential. Too often smallholders get poor value for their products, but ensuring local content purchasing by supermarkets, reduced red tape and support for investment in transport infrastructure will help. Already the reduction in market transaction costs through the removal of many police roadblocks has had a massive, positive impact, as fewer bribes have to be paid.

Value addition

The country must work on developing value-added activity around the agricultural sector. Local processing and packaging would ensure employment along the value chain. And preservation, processing and selling to niche markets could offset risks, such as a glut in horticultural products.

Smart support systems

Extension advice and market support through IT applications is increasingly feasible, given growing connectivity and the wide ownership of smartphones. This means farmers can be offered more attuned and useful advice. A wholesale rethink of agricultural extension and support services is therefore required.

Irrigation

Irrigation is essential to boost production in dryland areas, especially given the increased variability in rainfall patterns due to climate change. But this should not involve expensive, large-scale schemes. Instead they should be focused on supporting farmer-led irrigation, using small pumps and pipes bought locally. External intervention should be focused on improving water use efficiency and management.

Mechanisation

Appropriate mechanisation is another priority. Again this shouldn’t be focused on the large-scale options of the past. Small-scale mechanisation, such as two-wheeled tractors and motorbike-drawn trailers may be more appropriate and affordable, and less subject to patronage, than large tractors and combines. For larger equipment, cooperative arrangements or private hire schemes could work, supported by online infrastructure and training.

Local economic development

Agricultural development needs to be seen as part of local economic development. It must be integrated into wider planning and investment frameworks at a district level, with new farms of varying sizes linked to small towns near land reform areas, where new employment and service provision opportunities open up.

The ConversationThese ten suggestions together could make a big difference, both to the economy and to farmers’ livelihoods across the country. Let’s hope that President Mnangagwa’s commitment to agricultural development is translated into action – and soon.

This is the third in a short series of articles for The Conversation. The previous two on compensation and on land administration are available here and here.

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Rethinking agricultural extension

Zimbabwe’s agricultural extension service, Agritex, was the pride of Africa in the 1980s, before the ravages of structural adjustment hit in the 1990s. There were extension workers throughout the countryside, and a network of subject matter specialists, most highly experienced and qualified. The quality of the training and advice offered was unparalleled anywhere on the continent, and for a time the service was well resourced with extension workers reasonably paid and with transport and so able to move around.

Today the extension service is a sorry reflection of past glories. Many qualified staff left or passed away (the ravages of HIV/AIDS hit many government services very badly), posts are unfilled, the transport capacity virtually non-existent and the ability to offer up-to-date advice severely hampered by the parallel decimation of government research services. Most farmers rely on private input suppliers, agrodealers and their neighbours for advice these days. Of course there are extension workers in the field, and they are usually extraordinarily committed and informed, despite the poor conditions of their posts. In the communal areas many get additional incentives from NGO programmes, often diverting their work to projects like conservation agriculture or group gardening.

I had some interesting discussions recently with a number of former Agritex staff and resettlement farmers about what they thought of the service today, and what they thought about its future, particularly in the post land reform era. They reminisced about the past of course, and acknowledged how effective Agritex had been, but they were also sanguine about the future. What do the ‘new farmers’ really need?

The discussion identified three important things: information (and particularly up to the minute market and price data), brokering (between farmers and contractors, suppliers, markets and service providers, to ensure that deals struck are fair and regulated) and business management skills (they were confident about agronomy, but not running a business, even a small one: managing accounts, cash flows, investments and the rest). This is a very far cry from the standard Agritex approach, based as it was on the old World Bank Training and Visit system, and of course with its roots in the colonial era with the post of ‘Chief Instructor of Natives’ held by the famous American missionary, E.D. Alvord for many years. Today the emphasis should be very different, my informants suggested.

This would require a total rethink of Agritex, and agricultural extension in general. Indeed a department in the Ministry of Agriculture may not be the appropriate organisational vehicle at all. My informants pointed out that the new farmers, compared to their compatriots in the communal lands, were younger, better educated, more mobile, and with good access to town. They all had mobile phones, and many had smartphones with Internet access. Many were making money, and had investment, marketing and business planning decisions to make, often juggling an agricultural enterprise with other activities. Many women were independent operators, or took on particular roles within a more complex business than the standard communal area farm.

Of course not all resettlement farms are like this, just as not all communal area farms are classic family smallholder farms focused on subsistence agriculture with some off-farm activities. There is a huge diversity, and tailoring approaches to extension and development more generally to different groups is essential. In our study in Masvingo we identified 15 different livelihood strategies across the sample of 400 households in 16 sites that we clustered into four broad types. In a recent DFID-funded initiative three categories are identified that roughly chime with our livelihood types: market oriented surplus producers, smallholders who are surviving and are in need of livelihood support, and those who are struggling and in need of social protection.

Our discussion focused on the first, and some of the second, group. But this is a big and growing proportion of the new farming population, and the one that is really going to get agriculture moving. While social welfare approaches are clearly necessary, if there are to be long-term transitions out of poverty and onto growth paths that are sustainable backing those who are engaging with markets, developing their farms, and investing should be a priority. And supporting such people with the type of service that meets their needs I would argue is a useful public service. Some of it of course could be paid for in time, but as a strategic government investment it could easily be justified.

The new DFID programme is being implemented by FAO, and appears to be focused on ‘training’ focused on building ‘resilience’ through ‘climate smart agriculture’, with a range of high-sounding objectives set. But is this going to be old-style training, rekindling the glory days of 1980s Agritex (although in this case implemented by NGOs) and focused on instruction and demonstration around farming techniques (including conservation agriculture)? Or will it be building capacity around the priorities of information, brokering and business that we identified? There has been a repeated default in new programming by aid agencies as well as government to return to the past, and not rethink for the future. This is $48 million of UK taxpayers’ money, so let’s hope it is better focused than previous efforts, and helps to rebuild an agricultural research and extension capacity in Zimbabwe that is fit for its new purposes.

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

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