Agri — Insight
Last month, Cabinet adopted the 2021 Second Round Crop and Livestock Assessment Report that exposed more strengths than weaknesses in the agriculture sector's performance this season.
In case you did not see it, the report demonstrated the practical side of the common cliché, 'where there is a will, there is a way', after all stakeholders in the country's agriculture industry acted in unanimity to upstage challenges that in recent seasons had threatened to ruin agricultural production.
The unity of purpose demonstrated this season essentially set the country on course to recover its yesteryear glory as the bread basket of Africa whose economy is anchored by agriculture.
Part of the country's impressive resume as highlighted in the report was shown in its maize production figures in which it was estimated the country would record 2 717 171 tonnes, which is 199 percent more than the 907 628 tonnes produced last season.
Traditional grains production was projected at 347 968 tonnes, which is 128 percent more than the 152 515 tonnes produced last year, with the total cereal production projection sitting at 3 075 538 tonnes, against a national cereal requirement of 1 797 435 tonnes for human consumption and 450 000 tonnes for livestock.
On the one hand, cotton production was estimated at 195 991 tonnes, marking a 94 percent increase from the 101 000 tonnes recorded last year, while production of the golden leaf was projected to increase by 8 percent to 200 245 tonnes from 184 042 tonnes.
Production figures for soya bean were also expected to increase by 51 percent to 71 290 metric tonnes from 47 088 metric tonnes harvested last year.
Among the most exciting highlights was the fact that while the livestock situation still required attention, there had been a marked improvement in the state of the national herd, which increased from 5 443 770 cattle the previous season to 5 478 648 this season.
This is sweet music coming on the backdrop of harrowing experiences the country went through in recent seasons with more than 500 000 cattle dying either from tick-borne diseases or food and water shortages.
The situation this time around was completely different for both the livestock and crop sectors with Government leading the way in rolling out ways of revitalising productivity.
It was also exciting to note that players in the various sub-sectors gave it their all with Government introducing initiative after initiative will all stakeholders successfully implementing them to the last letter.
To contain cattle deaths, the Government undertook various programmes including pasture management, hay baling and distribution, artificial insemination and a comprehensive tick control initiative that saw the birth of the Presidential Tick Grease programme in which over 760 000 households across the country benefited from free tick grease.
This programme was in line with the National Development Strategy 1, which prioritises animal health and production through strengthening farmer knowledge, skills in livestock production and health, to enhance productivity.
In the report, Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement, Dr Anxious Masuka said diseases remained the major cause of cattle mortalities followed by drought related deaths accounting for 69 percent and 21 percent of total deaths respectively.
And while this was happening in the livestock sector, a lot was also happening at the crop side where Government introduced the climate-proofed Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme that instantly became a vital cog in anchoring the turning point in the war to eradicate food insecurity.
Various other initiatives that include Command Agriculture and the CBZ Agro-Yields scheme also played their critical roles in bolstering the fight to boot out hunger.
It was a season whose fortunes seem to have been designed in heaven, especially with the lavish rains that drenched the country in the last half after a barren first half (October to December 2020).
It was these rains that brought the change of fortunes everyone is currently excited about.
There were also some exciting developments off the field following Government's gazetting of regulations that criminalise side marketing of crops like soya beans and raw cotton with offenders facing two-year jail terms, a fine three times the value of the side marketed product or both jail and a financial penalty.
Under the new regulations, both the offending buyers and sellers will be equally guilty and will all be punished while exports of the two commodities by anyone except the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) were also banned.
Government is also putting in place mechanisms to render valueless any of the two crops found in the custody of middlemen involved in side-marketing.
The new controls are contained in the Grain Marketing (Control of Sale of Cotton) Regulations 2021, which is Statutory Instrument 96 of 2021, and the Grain Marketing (Control of Sale of Soya Beans) Regulations 2021, which is SI97 of 2021.
All these efforts by Government will protect the farmer from unscrupulous buyers while also protecting contractors that support the production of high value crops by extending financial loans.
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) has also set regulations governing the way contractors should handle contracts with farmers in a way that will protect both parties involved in the deal.
The new TIMB regulations are in a way one of the contributing factors to the current peaceful trading at the tobacco floors with contractors seemingly going all out to meet the requirements to remain in the game.
It was, however, Government that put the icing on the cake for an already exciting season by re-introducing the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) to take care of the financial requirements of farmers in the same manner the AFC of the olden times used to take care of its own.
President Mnangagwa recently launched the bank and challenged it to be inclusive and help all deserving farmers.
He also urged benefiting farmers to choose viable projects and uphold a culture of repaying loans to ensure the lending institution could recapitalise and remain operational.
What now remains is for the nation to build on the successes of this season and keep the momentum going into the future.
It is crucial to polish up everything that was done on a trial basis this season and bring out the best out of it next season.