SMALL-HOLDER farmers have continued to face challenges of enhancing production and accessing markets for their products.
It is because of this reason that the first stakeholders' regional farmers meeting was held at Protea Hotel in Livingstone from April 13-15, 2011 under the theme
"Aligning Production to Markets" to address production and market issues.
The meeting, which was jointly hosted by Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), Southern African Confederations Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) and East Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF), was attended by representatives of farmers' organisations and governments from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region as well as development agencies and implementing partners.
Some of the topics discussed in the meeting included key challenges in the marketing of agricultural commodities, agricultural standards and market access, farmers' participation in standards setting and models of linking small-scale farmers to regional markets.
Other topics were issues on small-holder farmer capacity, models of how smallholder farmers could directly supply commodities to World Food Programme (WFP) through
Agricultural Commodity Exchange (ACE) and small-holder participation in biotechnology.
Prior to the first stakeholders regional farmers meeting, ACTESA hosted a 'meet the media' conference at Protea Hotel in Livingstone which was attended by reporters and editors of private and public media institutions from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
At the end of the regional farmers meeting, various issues were resolved as some of the solutions to the challenges of production and markets.
On production, it was resolved that farmers organisations should be empowered and strengthened by building their capacity in the negotiations and ensure collective bargaining.
Reading out the communiqué in Livingstone on Friday, SACAU chief executive officer Ishmael Sunga said there was need to establish competition laws to ensure fair and transparent competitive environment.
Mr Shunga also said there was need to encourage and motivate the private sector to invest in input supplier initiatives such as the COMESA Regional Agro Input Programme (COMRA) among others.
"We resolved to promote local seed multiplication by farmers, promote establishment of rural collective storage facilities, support farmers to reduce post-harvest handling losses, encourage use of Bio Energy as an alternative to fossil fuels and encourage conservation agriculture.
There is also need to avail timely and reliable weather patterns to farmers, establish accessible early warning systems, train farmers on disaster mitigation and prevention and encourage public-private investment in the weather stations," he said.
The meeting also resolved to increase budgetary allocations to the agriculture sector especially in line with Maputo declaration of 2006 and provide appropriate technology for farmers such as for irrigation, soil testing hybrid seeds and machinery.
It was further agreed that land issues in terms of ownership as well as access and use should be addressed.
On markets, farmers resolved to build the capacity of the farmer organisations to fully participate and represent their members in the standard settings and development Further.
There was need to build and utilise platforms for engagement between private sector and farmers in understanding the private standards and market dynamism.
Farmers also resolved on sensitisation and capacity building on the need to see farming as a business.
"We need Public-Private partnership investments in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure.
The meeting also resolved the development of user-friendly programmes for farmers, roll-out of tele-centres in rural areas, use of commodity exchanges and establish electronic platforms for buyers and sellers," Mr Sunga said.
Other resolutions on markets included the need to establish farmer-owned finance, rural finance corporation, rural-based warehouse receipt systems and training of farmers on value addition and processing.
It was further resolved to encourage investment in the value addition and processing technologies as well as to strengthen the existingmarket information systems and promote the development of new ones.
Mr Sunga said the meeting also resolved to implement one border post initiatives, promote regional corridor initiatives and establish viable mechanisms to track and monitor the Non -Tariff Barriers (NTBs). On crosscutting issues, the meeting resolved that governments should provide conducive environments for production and trade.
It was resolved that advocacy should be encouraged at all levels while agricultural policies should be harmonised at regional level.
"We resolved to promote the use of warehouse receipt systems (WRSs),encourage public-private investments in weather stations, promote gender responsive programmes and initiatives as well as promote women participation in existing regional programmes.
It was also resolved to enhance skills development, increased exposures through trade fair and shows, sharing innovation and experiences as well as information and education on how to deal with the situation and support nutritional programmes and agricultural products that support the affected households," he said.
The East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and COMESA were urged to harmonise their policies to enable small-holder farmers to effectively benefit from regional arrangements.
Mr Sunga also called for the establishment of appropriate funding mechanisms for small-holder farmers in the three regional groupings.
He said there was need to put measures in place aimed at enhancing access to farming inputs and encourage private sector investment in the agriculture sector.
"To the private sector, we wish to call for an increase in agriculture development as well as the establishment of partnerships with the public sector and communities.There is also need to establish fair, open and transparent arrangements in partnerships with farmers," Mr Sunga said.
He urged development partners to allocate more development support to addressing production and marketing-related challenges.
The development partners were also urged to ease access conditionalities for farmers and farmer organisations as well as allocate resources for the capacity building of farmers'organisations.
"We as farmer organisations will mobilise farmers into viable structures, raise advocacy and lobby capacities and endeavour to participate in key standards setting processes and structures and marketing arrangements.
We will also support collective actions, build trust and honesty in all business transactions and encourage learning and sharing of information and experiences among others," he said.
ACTESA chief executive officer Cris Muyunda said his organisation would formulate plans to implement the various proposals made at the meeting.
Dr Muyunda thanked EAFF and SACAU as well as development partners such as the World Bank and other representatives of the farming community for participating during the meeting.
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Eustarckio Kazonga said the Zambian Government was fully supporting the need to develop small-holder farmers into a viable commercial agricultural community because this is the only way the agriculture sector will become competitive at the global level.
In a speech read for him by Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) director Richard Kamona , Dr Kazonga said small-holder farmers should not remain locked in subsistence agriculture, hence the Government fully supported the need to develop small-holder farmers into a viable commercial agricultural community.
Zambia Association of Manufactures (ZAM) president Chance Kabaghe, who also attended the meeting, was confident that farmer organisations and national governments in the region would align their agricultural production to markets.
Mr Kabaghe, who is SEEDCO Zambia chairperson and Freshpikt Limited chairperson, said the meeting was very good and participative saying alot of synergies were created among high level delegates in the region.
Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) director of export promotion and market development Glyne Michelo said the meeting enabled participants to exchange enriching regional experiences on agriculture issues.
Mr Michelo, who also attended the meeting in Livingstone, said in an interview that there was need to address the challenges of agricultural standards so that products enter both regional and international markets.
There is no doubt that the various resolutions would, once implemented, go a long way in facilitating small-holders' increased agriculture production as well as their access to regional and international markets.