Identifying 5 000 farmers on highly irrigated farms that will benefit under the Government’s Agricultural Recovery Plan (ARP) is an important step in creating a food secure nation and restoring Zimbabwe to its erstwhile status as the breadbasket of southern Africa.
The plan confirms the commitment made by President Mnangagwa in his inauguration speech in November 2017 when he stressed that the New Dispensation’s economic policy would be anchored on agriculture.
Last week, the Government announced the launch of the plan saying those selected will receive full contract farming support, including adequate fuel and uninterrupted power supply.
The plan comes into effect during the 2020-2021 agricultural season.
Ensuring adequate fuel and uninterrupted power supply have been a recurrent themes in recent years, but more specifically in relation to how these impact on winter wheat production.
Fuel availability means farmers can prepare adequately ahead of the agricultural season.
Delays in accessing fuel for farm operations has in the past resulted in decreased production owing to a late start in undertaking agricultural activities.
Major challenges that confronted more than 359 000 Land Reform Programme beneficiaries have revolved around capacity, agricultural extension services, timely access to finance, farm inputs and equipment, as well as technology to strengthen the scope for expanding the hectarage under crops and increasing production.
In announcing the programme, the Government said it was prioritising agriculture and food security and that the end goal was to enable the country to reclaim its status as the breadbasket of southern Africa.
One of the issues critical for the success of the plan is that there must be transparency in the manner the beneficiaries are awarded contracts and rationale thereof.
Justification of the participating beneficiaries is important in engendering support for the plan.
It will be recalled that under the Agricultural Mechanisation Programme, for example, equipment was not necessarily given to farmers with capacity to use it and step up productivity.
A common example was that of equipment that was subsequently found parked at former Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made’s Tara Farm in Headlands, Manicaland Province, apparently unused.
A fleet of tractors and an array of farming equipment was found stashed at the farm in Headlands, Manicaland Province.
Dr Made was among five high-profile politicians who were found with unutilised equipment.
This gave rise to suspicion that they had used their political clout to access the equipment at the expense of people with a genuine desire to contribute meaningfully to the country’s food security or export production.
In identifying potential beneficiaries, the process must ensure that the participants are farmers with a known record of producing and contributing to national food security.
Alternatively, would-be beneficiaries could provide proof of a farm management team with expertise or graduates of the country’s agricultural colleges or institutes.
Zimbabweans will also be familiar with abuses of the Command Agriculture Programme, where beneficiaries were accused of selling off fuel and inputs meant for them to produce for the nation, as part of the quest to attain national food self-sufficiency.
In identifying beneficiaries, it will therefore be critical to ensure that the programme is not merely feeding the appetite of people bent on making quick buck at the expense of national objectives.
It will also create confidence in the programme if the national spread of beneficiaries is publicised for all to appreciate.
If the beneficiaries are evenly spread, the process could ensure that agricultural production under the recovery plan benefits local communities, while creating growth nodes throughout the country.
In due course, attention could be given to issues of beneficiation and value-addition around sites of production.
This could be in the form of factories drawing their feed stock from the irrigated farms in their given districts.
These, for example, could therefore be maize or flour milling plants as well as canning factories for horticultural produce.
Such an outcome would also respond to calls for decentralisation.
In the past, agriculture contributed more than 60 percent of raw materials to agro-industries, while in excess of 70 percent of Zimbabweans derived their livelihoods from the sector.
Because the majority depend on agriculture, getting agriculture operating well again will impact the economy and people’s lives positively.
The time between now and July when agricultural inputs are expected on farms, should be used to iron out and fine-tune the plan ahead of its implementation to ensure it gets off to a flying start.