Society: The other side of Chirumhanzu’s Cheza

Critics of the land reform programme led by the late former President Robert Mugabe concur with Taffs’s assertions as vast tracts of once productive farmlands lie idle today, with overgrown weeds and bushes.

AT the launch of a new agriculture development company African Farming Solutions eight years ago, former Commercial Farmers Union president Charles Taffs said farming was a business and not everyone can necessarily be a farmer.

“Farming must be done professionally and to do otherwise is to promote poverty and perpetual dependency and we must move away from this phenomenon,” Taffs said then.Critics of the land reform programme led by the late former President Robert Mugabe concur with Taffs’s assertions as vast tracts of once productive farmlands lie idle today, with overgrown weeds and bushes.

Although in successive years the Zanu PF-led government has attempted to conduct land audits particularly on underutilised farms, most farm holders still use farms as weekend retreats and occasionally visit the farms for braais.

Over the years, opposition politicians have struggled to get land, despite the ruling Zanu PF party maintaining that allocation of land was non-partisan.Those in the opposition who are into farming business have bought the land, but still face the risk of evictions by Zanu PF activists or people with close links to the party.

One such is Citizens Coalition for Change Chirumanzu South candidate in the August 23 elections, Patrick Cheza, who has defied the odds and is running a 125-hectare piece of land at Mahamara Farm sub-division 43, about 80km from Mvuma along the Mvuma-Kwekwe Road.

A visit to the farm by NewsDay Weekender last week revealed land which is being fully utilised mostly for the benefit of the community and the nation at large.Farm manager Edward Mufandaedza, an agriculture graduate from the Midlands State University (MSU), said they are into mixed farming, a venture that has also benefitted several students from universities.

“We have 96 beef cattle now and at one time, the number went up to 200 cattle, but we occasionally downsized the herd because of the farm size,” hesaid.“We also have goats and the breeds include Boers and Kalahari as well as a cross breed of sheep.”

Mufandaedza said horticulture was the backbone of the farm.“We grow tomatoes outside and in greenhouses and we have a good market in Gweru, Kwekwe and recently Chirumanzu, where we have weekly supplies,” he said.“We also grow cucumbers in the greenhouses, butternuts and maize. Our cucumbers and butternuts have a good market.”

Cheza worked for years in the United Kingdom and invested some of his money into the farming business.The politician said his vision was to see an empowered community not only through job creation at the farm enterprises, but also food security at community and national level.“We want to ensure that in the next year we are the best supplier of tomatoes, particularly given the trinity variety we are growing,” Cheza said.

“We also want to ensure that we keep on improving our infrastructure at the farm to meet world-class farming standards.“We will also keep on engaging students on attachment who are in the agriculture fields so that we produce the best graduates in that sector. This year, we aim to increase our workforce to between 20 and 30 so that we create employment for the local community and take people off the streets away from crime and vices as well as drug and substance abuse.”

He said three solar-powered boreholes were functional, but there was a need to increase water sources to improve hectarage under production.Among the workforce are nine students on attachment, five females and four males from institutions such as MSU, which has two students, Chinhoyi University of Technology (1), Gwebi Agricultural College (1), Rio Tinto (2) and Kaguvi Vocational Training Centre (3).

MSU agronomy studies student Merit Zingura said she has learnt a lot at the farm since last October.“I have acquired practical experience in maize and horticultural production since I started attachment here in October last year and I can now plant and grow crops with little supervision,” she said.

Another student, Patricia Ndiya, said working at the farm has taught her that women can excel in the business.“I was attached here in May last year and the exposure has taught me that women can achieve a lot in this business,” said Ndiya, an agriculture student at Kaguvi Vocational Training Centre.

“Besides practically doing what any farmer can do, be it in crop husbandry or poultry production, I have acquired business and marketing skills such that I can empower other women in communities.” Ndiya appealed to the government to avail grants and land for women to start agriculture income generating projects.

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