THE nature of farming systems in this country has been transformed over the years and continue to be modelled and re-aligned to the regional and international benchmarks in order to suit the changing climate as well as the farm mechanisation models around the world. For this reason, the majority of Zimbabwe’s small-scale farming communities should not continue to be stuck in the subsistence systems as the agricultural sector is fast being transformed into economic and entrepreneurial ventures.
guest column: Peter Makwanya
Farming is no longer a subsistence entity but quite a big business which is not only for transactional purposes but very competitive as well. Even the farming methodologies are pointing towards the evolution of economics and entrepreneurship not only for saving the environment but also to bring sufficient incomes as well as making use of machinery and equipment, designed to make it less laborious.
The current nature of farming in this country points to small and large-scale commercial farming. By using the term, large-scale commercial farming, the small-scale farmers would feel discriminated in their own right as every farmer is commercially oriented in this regard. It is this discourse of exclusion which needs to be transformed and re-aligned to be in line with the current trends. As we farm for business it is also important to use methods which would safeguard the environment. Even the language used in the farming sector should not promote the habits that destroy the environment. On many occasions farmers concentrated on the end-product while ignoring the means. For instance, tobacco farming is big business but let us not destroy the forests without cultivating the spirit of reforestation. Every tobacco farmer can transform the tobacco farming sector by establishing woodlots at their plots and leave the forests intact. A behaviour of forest re-generation should be in the blood of farmers so that they become true stewards of their environments.
What is critical and fundamental in both farming sectors, the small-scale and large-scale farmers should change their world views, especially the small-scale farmers because they need to be market-oriented, competitive and networked. Transforming their mind-sets would usher new impetuses and horizons, that as small-scale farmers, they are also organised, collaborative and seriously in business. They also need to exorcise the ghost of subsistence by investing lots of entrepreneurial spirit and focus on what they would want to do for business, not for subsistence purposes. Indeed, they need to realise that there is lots potential and initiatives in their community of practice. Small-scale farming should no longer be a seasonal venture, hence it should be on-going and must not always be determined by the presence of rains, as there are other side-events which they can engage in to increase their incomes. They also need to fill the gaps created by the large-scale farmers. It is evident that large-scale farmers have faced a number of challenges which have contributed to the situation in which they find themselves in. Indeed yes, they have failed to feel in the shoes of the white former commercial farmers. The fact that most of the farms are being downsized to manageable proportions is a clear testimony that our dear comrades have dismally failed, hence they are not up to scratch. Farms are not being downsized because, the parent ministry loves people a lot, and it’s simply because of inherent failure to produce.
Farming is not a stroll in the park, it requires commitment and resources. Funding for agricultural practices should always be available, not for speculative purposes and above all farmers need to be accountable. Borrowed loans should be paid back so that there is a cycle of circulation.
Although everyone seems to be in the farming practice, many farmers are more on the selfish side, as they lack collaboration and networking. Collaborations are significant for knowledge sharing and networking. Although they are called small-scale, it doesn’t mean that they should have small minds, as such, the impact of their community of practice should show be felt and show significant footprints everywhere.
It is also fundamental in this regard, that the country should not negate its command farming vision as it has the potential of transforming the agricultural sector into a vibrant and versatile entity. But above everything else, small-scale farmers should be trained to be accountable as well as the spirit of paying back loans, that is if they happen to get them.
In this regard, it is important to see the small and large-scale farmers contributing enough to the country’s GDP once again. This is important in reviving the farming sector, make it more market oriented, as well as being competitive on the local, regional and international platforms. For the farming sector to establish this kind of footprint, regionally and internationally, market prices need to be sustainable and farmers should have a voice. Farmers need to have bargaining powers as well as vibrant organisations who can stand for the farmers’ and protect them from abuse and exploitation. As long as the products of other farmers are competitive and are of good quality, they should be allowed to export.
It is also the duty of the government, farmer organisations, NGOs as well as their implementing partners to link farmers to the existing markets. All the farmers would welcome such kind of a guidance as this would protect them from unscrupulous middle-men. Government and the private sector should help in the establishment of agro-hubs, that are one-stop shops and everything, which will add value to the farming business. These will lead to the establishment of value chains which would safeguard farmers’ products from post-harvest losses especially the perishables from the horticultural and dairy sectors.
There should be a number of policies and instruments aimed at cushioning each and every farming sector.
Issues of standardisation and storage facilities would be welcomed by farmers, especially those who travel long distances or wait for days before they are able to transport their products.
Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his capacity and can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org