In­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion up­beat on agric prospects

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - NEWS - Kuda Bwititi Chief Re­porter

The World Farm­ers’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WFO) — an af­fil­i­ate of the United Na­tions which is con­sid­ered to be one of the world’s largest farmer or­gan­i­sa­tions — has said al­though the lo­cal tobacco sec­tor is per­form­ing very well, there is need to eval­u­ate its main fi­nanc­ing model to en­sure that farm­ers get the max­i­mum pos­si­ble ben­e­fit from the cop.

In an in­ter­view with The Sun­day Mail on the side­lines of the 75th Com­mer­cial Farm­ers Union of Zim­babwe (CFU) Congress, WFO pres­i­dent Mr Theo De Jager said just like cot­ton, tobacco has closed value chains.

He said the cur­rent tobacco con­tract sys­tem, which gives the spon­sor­ing com­pa­nies the lat­i­tude to set the price of in­puts supplied to the farmer and de­ter­mine the price at which it buys the pro­duce, could be prej­u­di­cial to farm­ers.

“Zim­babwe is per­form­ing out­stand­ingly in the pro­duc­tion of tobacco. That is good. How­ever, tobacco and cot­ton are closed value chains. You can­not sell tobacco or cot­ton from a street cor­ner, you can only sell it through the process,” said Mr Jager.

“You get big multi­na­tional com­pa­nies sup­port­ing these small­holder farm­ers to plant tobacco, which the fi­nancier buys him­self. So he knows ex­actly what he bor­rowed to that farmer and he makes the price to buy it back. That sort of en­slaves the farm­ers. Ide­ally, fi­nanc­ing and buy­ing should be sep­a­rate.

“So go­ing for­ward, Zim­babwe should look at op­tions of open­ing up the value chain, which is why it is also im­por­tant to boost live­stock pro­duc­tion and hor­ti­cul­ture. The value chains for those are open,” he said.

Zim­babwe recorded a record tobacco crop dur­ing the 2018 mar­ket­ing sea­son as farm­ers de­liv­ered 250 mil­lion kilo­grammes worth $729 mil­lion of the golden leaf.

The bulk of the crop was, how­ever, de­liv­ered un­der con­tract farming.

Sta­tis­tics from in­dus­try reg­u­la­tor, Tobacco In­dus­try Mar­ket­ing Board (TIMB), show that 214 mil­lion kgs worth $631 mil­lion were sold through the con­tract sys­tem, while 36 mil­lion kgs worth $98 mil­lion were sold through the auc­tion floors. Land ten­ure The in­ter­na­tional farm­ers’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive or­gan­i­sa­tion, which claims to rep­re­sent 1,5 bil­lion farm­ers from 54 coun­tries across the world, said po­ten­tial in­vestors in Zim­babwe’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor are mainly con­cerned with se­cu­rity of ten­ure.

He said if the two is­sues are solved, this could help at­tract in­ter­na­tional fund­ing for farm­ers.

“Land should be bank­able so that the farm­ers can in­vest.

“I have brought some in­vestors here to Zim­babwe, but they were all com­plain­ing that their money is stuck here. They did good busi­ness, but how do you bring more trac­tors or piv­ots in when you can’t take the money out to buy more,” he said.

Gov­ern­ment has since made a com­mit­ment to con­sol­i­date land own­er­ship and se­cu­rity of ten­ure.

In its 2018 elec­tions man­i­festo, Zanu-PF in­di­cated that it will “ex­pe­dite the is­suance of se­cu­rity of ten­ure doc­u­ments to the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the land re­form pro­gramme”.

Agri­cul­ture pro­vides liveli­hoods to over 70 per­cent of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion and sup­plies in­dus­try with 60 per­cent of its raw ma­te­ri­als.

Gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers it a key pil­lar in build­ing an up­per mid­dle-in­come econ­omy in the next 12 years.

Plans are un­der­way to mod­ernise the sec­tor in order in­crease both pro­duc­tion and out­put per unit area.

Vote of con­fi­dence in Min­is­ter Shiri

Mr Jager be­lieves that the Min­is­ter of Lands, Agri­cul­ture, Wa­ter, Cli­mate and Ru­ral Re­set­tle­ment, Chief Air Mar­shal Per­rance Shiri (Re­tired) is best suited to steer re­forms in the sec­tor and in­crease pro­duc­tion.

“In the meet­ings I have had with Min­is­ter Shiri, I liked his open-mind­ed­ness. I liked his mil­i­tary-like style. He knows what needs to get done and he knows where things got stuck. He un­der­stands dis­ci­pline and he un­der­stands proper man­age­ment. A lot of chal­lenges in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, which Zim­babwe has ac­cu­mu­lated over the last decade and a half, were in the depart­ment of agri­cul­ture,” said Mr Jager.

“I have good hope that this will be sorted out now. He un­der­stands that the big­gest chal­lenge in ru­ral Zim­babwe is poverty. He un­der­stands that the ne­ces­sity is jobs.

‘‘He knows the only way to kill poverty is through wealth cre­ation.

‘‘He told me face to face that no other sec­tor in the econ­omy of Zim­babwe is bet­ter po­si­tioned to cre­ate wealth in ru­ral Zim­babwe in a short space of time on a broader and cheaper ba­sis than agri­cul­ture.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Jager, Zim­babwe should em­brace mod­ern tech­nol­ogy such as dig­i­tal farming to boost pro­duc­tion.

Mr Theo De Jager

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