Opinion & Columnist

Private sector invests in Agric Centres of Excellence

By Munya Simango, Correspondent
More than 100 000 farmers are set to benefit from smart partnerships that Agricultural Centres of Excellence (ACEs) have established with companies that supply inputs and equipment to Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector.

The centres were established by the Government at Matopos Research Institute, Chibero Agricultural College, Insiza, Mhondoro-Ngezi, Matobo and Chegutu under the European Union funded Zimbabwe Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Services (ZAKIS) project.

ACEs are farmer-centric and inclusive multi-stakeholder platforms that bring together farmers and agriculture value chains. They are focal points for disseminating of up-to-date agricultural knowledge, promoting of innovations and market linkages, as well as for harmonising the delivery of research, education and extension services to farmers.

Commenting on the partnerships, ZAKIS head of project Mr Waddilove Sansole said that ZAKIS has upgraded facilities at the ACEs to ensure that the centres deliver this expected outcome and to facilitate the smooth operation of the partnerships with private sector players.

“In so doing, we have strengthened the centres’ capacity to deliver services to farmers by establishing crop demonstration plots, refurbishing animal husbandry facilities and installing infrastructure that includes solar powered boreholes and drip irrigation systems,” he said

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The partnerships have seen companies providing ACEs with inputs and services which include seed, fertilizers, agro-chemicals, stock feeds and technical advice.

ZAKIS extension advisor Mr Ronald Veremu said that the partnerships were mutually beneficial relationships that allowed private sector players to use ACE facilities to conduct crop and livestock research, test and develop new crop varieties as well as new livestock feed formulations.

“This will strengthen the delivery of education, extension and research services to farmers as the private sector partners will provide technical advice and share knowledge through demonstrations, training and showcasing the performance of different crop varieties, fertilisers and equipment,” he said.

Several companies have taken advantage of this collaborative opportunity and established operations at the centres in the last six months. These include SeedCo, Aquafeeds, Superfert, Agriseeds, Klein Karoo (K2), Dupont Pioneer/Pannar and PrimeSeedCo.

Over the past six months, PrimeSeedCo and Superfert have collaborated to support the establishing of commercially viable horticulture business ventures at the centres. The companies have provided seedlings, fertilizers and the necessary technical backup to ensure the business units’ viability.
As part of the agreement, PrimeSeedCo will conduct research as well as test, evaluate and promote new crop varieties at the ACEs.
Commenting on the partnership, ICRISAT research and evaluation associate Angeline Mujeyi said, “Research for development needs a lot of funding. Our collaboration with PrimeSeedco and Superfert complements the efforts of Government to fund research. This is because as our partners they bring the required seeds, fertilizers, resources and expertise. In addition, we are now using the revenue that we have so far generated from the sale of the produce to cover some of our operational costs.”

This partnership also provides learning opportunities to farmers and students as well as Government research, education, and extension staff.

PrimeSeedCo vegetable product development manager Mr Silas Mutota said this partnership with the centres of excellence was focused on complementing Government’s agricultural transformation drive as it involves sharing knowledge to improve farmers’ productivity.

“Since the centres are linked to farmers, this also makes our efforts to promote new technologies, improved seed varieties and new innovations among farmers more effective. This, combined with the training that we are providing extension officers and the value chain linkages that we continue to facilitate for farmers will lead to increased yields, better nutrition for our communities and enhanced incomes for our farmers.”

The private sector partnership initiative has also made it possible for the centres to establish business units in new and emerging value chains.

In line with this, the ACEs secured a partnership with Aquafeeds, a local company that manufactures feed formulations for fish.
Aquafeeds fish husbandry expert Ms Mazvita Mufukare said the partnership was designed to stimulate commercial fish production in Zimbabwe through establishing commercially viable aquaculture business units at the ACEs.

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“Fish farming is fairly new in Zimbabwe; therefore we are collaborating with the centres and the Ministry of Lands Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Resettlement to disseminate knowledge that will contribute to the growth of the fish value chain in the country.

“To this end, we have helped the centres to establish fish farming business units by providing them with pond construction expertise, start-up fingerlings and feeds. In addition we have an ongoing programme to provide fish farming training to the staff at the centres, farmers, the students, as well as Government research, education, and extension staff,” she said.

The ACEs are the focal points of the ZAKIS intervention whose efforts are aimed at making a significant contribution towards key strategic Ministry initiatives such as Pillar number II (Agriculture, Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Systems) of the National Agriculture Policy Framework (2019-2030) and Pillar III (Efficient agricultural knowledge, technology and innovation system) of the Agriculture And Food Systems Transformation Strategy. The objective of these initiatives is to stimulate increased investment in agricultural education, research, development and extension systems as well as to foster the adoption of climate and business-smart technology and innovation.

ZAKIS is part of the broader Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP) whose overall objective is to improve agricultural growth and boost rural green economic development in the country. It is implemented by a consortium of local and international agricultural specialist NGOs, comprising of Welthungerhilfe, Sustainable Agriculture Technology, ICRISAT and Community Technology Development Organisation.

HERALD