ZIMBABWE’s agriculture sector is similar to that of most Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries as it is dominated by smallholder production.
Furthermore, the sector faces challenges similar to those of regional countries, like climate change, transboundary diseases and the proliferation of invasive alien species.
The country has a comparative advantage in the region in production of high-value export crops such as tobacco and cotton. It has also emerged as a key producer of emerging crops such as macadamia nuts and blueberries.
In 2021, Zimbabwe produced 375 131 tonnes against a national requirement of 360 000 tonnes. This made us the only wheat self-sufficient country in the SADC region.
SADC’s support to Zimbabwe’s agriculture
SADC has been supportive of Zimbabwe in the face of droughts.
These measures are aimed at boosting productivity, increasing resilience and ensuring food security amid climate-related challenges. The following are examples of the support the region has provided to Zimbabwe:
Drought relief assistance: SADC has provided financial and logistical support to Zimbabwe during periods of drought. This assistance includes food aid, funding for water infrastructure development and support for irrigation schemes to mitigate the impact of droughts on agricultural production.
Capacity-building and technical assistance: SADC has provided technical expertise and training to Zimbabwean farmers, enabling them to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices. This support helps farmers improve their resilience to droughts, enhance productivity and adapt to changing climatic conditions.
Information sharing and early warning systems: SADC has facilitated the exchange of information and best practices among member states, including Zimbabwe, to enhance their ability to monitor and respond to droughts. This includes establishment of early warning systems for drought and other climate-related risks, allowing farmers to make timely decisions and take appropriate action.
Regional trade and market integration: SADC promotes regional trade and market integration, which helps Zimbabwe access markets for its agricultural products. This can provide an avenue for Zimbabwean farmers to diversify their income sources and improve economic resilience, even in the face of droughts.
SADC member states have implemented various initiatives to promote regional trade, facilitate market access and support consumption of agricultural products from Zimbabwe.
Here are some examples of SADC’s support in this regard:
Trade facilitation: SADC has implemented measures to reduce trade barriers and streamline customs procedures among member states. These efforts seek to enhance ease of doing business, promote regional trade and facilitate consumption of agricultural products across borders.
Market integration: The economic bloc has been working towards establishment of a free trade area in the region. This initiative, known as the SADC Free Trade Area (FTA), seeks to create a larger market and promote consumption of agricultural products from member states, including Zimbabwe. The FTA is designed to eliminate trade barriers and promote regional economic integration.
Harmonisation of standards: SADC has been working towards harmonising standards for agricultural products among member states. This enables Zimbabwean farmers and producers to meet regional quality requirements, ensuring acceptance and consumption of their products within the SADC market.
Regional agricultural initiatives: SADC has launched agricultural initiatives to promote regional food security and nutrition. These initiatives — the SADC Regional Agricultural Policy and the SADC Regional Food Security Reserve — seek to enhance agricultural production and consumption within the region. By supporting such initiatives, Zimbabwe can benefit from increased consumption of its agricultural products within the region.
Other challenges facing agriculture sector
Climate change: Zimbabwe is experiencing changing weather patterns — including increased droughts, floods and extreme temperatures. This poses a significant challenge to agricultural productivity and resilience.
Geopolitical conflicts: The Ukraine-Russia crisis has exacerbated the already precarious situation that Africa finds itself in. To put into context, the scale of the crisis on Africa has the following impacts: Put together, Russia and Ukraine produce 30 percent of the world’s wheat, as it is the cheapest on the global market. Most of this wheat goes to low-income and food-deficit countries, including Zimbabwe.
Russia and Ukraine account for over half of wheat imports to African countries. Since the start of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, global wheat prices have risen by over 20 percent. Prices of food, which account for about 40 percent of consumer spending in the region, are rising rapidly. The conflict has impacted negatively on the logistical and financial aspects of agricultural input and output commodity supply chains, disrupting agricultural programming for the attainment of food and nutrition security in Zimbabwe and Africa at large.
- Limited access to financing: Many farmers in Zimbabwe struggle to access affordable credit and finance for agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and equipment. This hinders their ability to invest in their farms and improve productivity.
- Ageing farmer population: The majority of farmers in Zimbabwe are old, and there is a need to attract the younger generation to engage in agriculture. However, limited access to resources, training and support for the youth in agricultural activities is a challenge.
5.Technology adoption: The adoption of modern agricultural technologies such as precision farming, drip irrigation and mechanisation is relatively low in Zimbabwe.
Limited access to these technologies and the knowledge and skills required for their effective use hampers agricultural productivity.
- Market access and value chain development: Farmers often struggle to access profitable markets due to limited infrastructure, lack of storage facilities and inadequate value chain linkages. This affects their ability to earn reasonable incomes and drives inefficiencies in the agriculture sector.
- Pests and diseases: Outbreaks of pests and diseases such as the fall armyworm and foot-and-mouth disease can severely impact crop and livestock production.
Combating these challenges requires effective surveillance, early warning systems and appropriate control measures.
Addressing these emerging challenges will require collaborative efforts from Government and farmers, as well as private sector and development partners.
Implementing appropriate policies, investing in research and development, promoting climate-smart practices, enhancing market linkages and providing support for technology adoption can help overcome these challenges and promote sustainable agricultural development in Zimbabwe.
Agro-policies to counter sanctions
Government — and by extension, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development — has put in place policy frameworks that seek to transform the agriculture sector in the face of the economic sanctions that have bedevilled the economy.
Since the advent of the Second Republic, on November 17, 2017, President Mnangagwa has implemented a raft of policy, strategic and legislative interventions to undergird the transformation of the agriculture sector. The Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy (AFSTS) (2020-2025) was launched by the President in August 2020 with a view to:
* assuring the nation of perennial food security, away from episodic and weather-dependent food security;
reducing and eventually eliminating imports, through localisation of value chains;
diversifying and increasing exports;
enhancing value addition and beneficiation;
increasing employment creation; and
uplifting rural livelihoods, leaving no one and no place behind
The agriculture sector’s gross value was US$5,62 billion and the national target was to deliver a US$8,2 billion agricultural economy by 2025.
To date, the sector has surpassed this target. These strategies saw the rapid transformation of the sector through the following AFSTS anchor plans:
Agriculture Recovery and Growth Plan;
Horticulture Recovery and Growth Plan;
Livestock Growth Plan;
Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Plan;
* Agriculture Information Management System; and
* Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Plan
Land reform’s contribution to economic turnaround
- Increased agricultural productivity: Land reform provided land to landless farmers. Following the initial drop in production at its inception, in recent years, production has steadily increased and has surpassed pre-land reform levels.
This is seen in the record production of tobacco — 296 million kg in 2023; the record wheat production of 375 131 tonnes in 2022; and the record maize production in the 2020/2021 season — 2,7 million tonnes.
- Poverty reduction: Land reform has helped reduce poverty by creating opportunities for rural communities to generate income through farming. The redistribution of land to small-scale farmers has empowered them with the means to generate their livelihoods, improve food security and access markets.
- Employment generation: By redistributing land, land reform has created employment opportunities in the agriculture sector. Currently, 60 percent of the rural population’s livelihood is dependent on agriculture.
- Investment in rural infrastructure: Following land reform, Government deliberately facilitated access to credit, inputs and infrastructure development in rural areas. This has led to increased investment in rural infrastructure such as irrigation systems, roads, storage facilities and processing industries.
Improved infrastructure has enhanced productivity, helped reduce post-harvest losses, facilitated market access and attracted further investment in rural areas, contributing to economic growth.
* Dr Masuka is the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development. He made these remarks while responding to questions from The Sunday Mail’s Theseus Shambare. This article was first published here in the Sunday Mail.