THE Government-initiated Command Agriculture programme is proving to be a masterstroke as initial assessments are already pointing to a bumper harvest in excess of three million tonnes of maize after exceeding the targeted two million tonnes.
This is remarkable considering that the programme is being implemented over a three-year period with a view to ensuring national food self-sufficiency at the end but based on current projections, the country might return to its breadbasket status this farming season.
Zimbabwe has received normal to above normal rainfall and this has assisted in ensuring the success of Command Agriculture. Beneficiaries of the land reform programme, particularly A2 farmers, constitute the bulk of the more than 36 000 farmers who participated in the scheme and we feel it is apt that they contribute to feeding the nation.
A combination of successive droughts and lack of collateral to secure loans from banks had hamstrung the activities of most black farmers but the Command Agriculture initiative provided them with an opportunity to prove critics wrong and demonstrate that with the right support, local people were capable to matching or even surpassing the exploits of white commercial farmers.
A distinct advantage of the project is that it is self-financing, with each participating farmer being required to commit five tonnes per hectare towards repayment of advanced loans in the form of irrigation equipment, inputs and chemicals, mechanised equipment, electricity and water charges. The farmer retains all surplus produced for personal use.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa revealed at the weekend that Command Agriculture was such a phenomenal success to the extent that the Government was now faced with a serious problem of storage facilities. Addressing Methodist Church in Zimbabwe congregants at a welcome ceremony for Reverend Victor Chidzambwa as the incoming Kuwadzana Extension circuit superintendent in Harare, VP Mnangagwa said this year the country would have enough food, thanks to Command Agriculture.
“We started this project with a target of getting two million tonnes, but the assessment that we have done so far is showing that we may surpass three million tonnes,” he said.
“You prayed as churches and we received good rains and are expecting a bumper harvest. The challenge that we are now facing is that of storing the maize”. VP Mnangagwa said with the good harvests expected this year, it is important to expand Command Agriculture to include other crops that have downstream benefits to the economy.
“We hope the country will draw lessons from the initial phase, with a view to extending it to other crops like wheat, small grains, oil seeds like soya beans, sunflowers and groundnuts, floriculture and livestock, among other subsectors. The above crops will generate numerous opportunities and other benefits along the agricultural value chain.
“Such benefits include, but are not limited to, fuel distribution, transportation of grain and other agricultural products to the Grain Marketing Board, milling, distribution and packaging of processed products arising out of Command Agriculture and other agricultural initiatives like the Presidential Inputs Scheme.”
We hail the success of Command Agriculture and pay tribute to the thousands of farmers who worked tirelessly to ensure its success. We also applaud the efforts of Government workers such agricultural extension officers, agronomists, pest control experts and others who helped farmers with inputs, pesticides and other ancillary services.
We call on the relevant Government agencies to ensure that the bountiful maize that is in the fields is harvested on time so that the hard work put in by farmers does not go to waste.
There is a need for co-ordinated efforts in deployment of resources so that the maize is delivered to the GMB timeously. Priority should also be given to the rehabilitation of grain silos to store the maize. The GMB revealed recently that only three out of its 12 storage silos are functional countrywide due to years of neglect and requires $50 million to repair them. In this vein, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development should immediately release enough funds for the exercise as storage facilities affect the quality of grain.
The GMB has 80 depots but only 12 have silos with a capacity to hold 500 000 tonnes of maize. With Command Agriculture yielding in excess of three million tonnes of maize, this means that more storage space is required hence there might be a need to utilise private silos or build new ones.
We also agree with VP Mnangagwa that the Command Agriculture scheme needs to be extended to other crops such as wheat and other small grains. The successes scored in maize production can be replicated with other crops and livestock, laying a solid base for the overall rise of the agriculture sector — the back of the economy.