‘Software input’ boosts productivity in rural Nyanga

HAMUZVIREGI Nyabudukuru (40) is expecting a bumper harvest in the next few weeks.

BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA

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She is one of the farmers at Nyakomba Irrigation Scheme in Nyanga North constituency, who have benefitted from the “software inputs”, a programme meant to equip farmers with knowledge on how to save money for inputs and securing markets.

The project is being funded by the Big Lottery Fund through Practical Action and is being implemented by Zambuko Trust and Farm Community Trust.

Before, Nyabudukuru used to depend on the government to get inputs as well as the market, but due to economic hardships bedevilling the country, the government coffers are dry, resulting in her and other farmers experiencing a low harvest.

The introduction of the voluntary savings and lendings (VSLs) popularly known in vernacular as mukando, has benefited a number of farmers at the irrigation scheme, as they now have money to secure farming inputs in time.

“I had challenges in securing inputs before, but the introduction of mukando has helped me a lot.

We welcomed the programme and now I boast of being a top farmer in the neighbouring villages. We are just a group of 15 people who seed $5 per month. If someone needs money, he gets it from the coffers and returns it with a 20% interest.

“At the end of the year, we then share the money before making contributing into the coffers again. This money is what I used to buy inputs like fertilisers and seeds. We are no longer depending on the government,” Nyabudukuru, a smallholder farmer, said.

VSLs were introduced in 1998 by Care International.

Mathew Nyagwaya (60) ,who facilitates 10 groups that are currently practising mukando, said the programme has benefitted many in the surrounding villages.

“We encourage farmers to strategise on ways of saving money. This has helped a lot in that there is an improvement in productivity. The farmers do now have money to buy inputs. The problem is that there are no rains as like previous years. We do have an irrigation scheme but the electricity bills are too high such that farmers are finding it difficult to fully utilise irrigation facilities,” said Nyagwaya.

A total of 879 farmers were trained on the Mukando or VSL concept and graduated with 767 being women while 112 were men. According to the concept a group of 10 people who each save $5 per month and charge 10% interest per month will have cumulative loan value of $1236 after 6months for example.

Nyakomba Irrigation Scheme was established between 1997 and 2000 with funding from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on 700ha.The irrigation scheme however covers 431ha underutilisation. The farmers do produce maize, tomatoes and chilli among other horticultural crops.

Zambuko Trust VSL & Market Linkage Officer Richard Huchena said the concept has helped farmers in that they are no longer using primitive farming methods.

“The mukando concept has the potential to give small scale farmers a fighting chance against poverty. A lot of smallholder farmers continue to use primitive technology and insufficient inputs and poor seed varieties and resultantly they realize low yields.

“Finance providers shun rural farmers because rural agriculture is perceived to be highly risky and susceptible to shocks such as market fluctuations and climatic conditions. Yet access to finance is a game changer in agriculture. That is why we introduced mukando in the irrigation schemes,” he said.

Tendai Chiwandandebvu (31), Chairman of the Marketing Committee said farmers acquired knowledge on how to source for markets, that has seen the farmers securing some contract with big companies in Manicaland Province.

“We acquired necessary information on how to secure markets for our farm produces. We got this information through trainings, look and learn tours we held recently. Our visits to areas like Masvingo and Mutare were we met various stakeholders were an eye opener to us. We got connected and learnt from others, before we began employing some of the tactics back home.

“This has helped because we recently secured a contract with Cairns (Pvt) Ltd for bean production.

The company will be sponsoring the seeds as well as the market for the beans,” he said.

According to Chiwandandebvu, about 303 farmers are into the Michagan Pea Bean production deal that will see the company buying the produce at 0.80c/kg.

Regis Sithole, Programmes Officer for Practical Action, said Nyakomba farmers are set to benefit a lot and improve their livelihoods as they have secured a ready market.

“We assisted the farmers and they got engaged a big company, Cairns. Each farmer is being given seed and we are already at an advanced stage of engaging a financial institution to offer other inputs. Production of Michagan bean is 29c per kg. This means each farmer will benefit as they will get a gross income of over $1800 per ha realising a return of $700.

“Besides the financial gains, farmers are also guaranteed of a market for their produce unlike before,” he said.

The Nyakomba Irrigation Scheme is destined for glory after the Japanese Government pledged a development aid of $15m to resuscitate the irrigation facility. As part of the project, water canals and pumps will be repaired and replaced.

A new million dollar irrigation block that covers 146 hectares, projected to benefit 230 smallholder farmers is also set to be constructed.

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