Zimbabwe: 2021 – When Everything Fell in Place for Agriculture
By Elita Chikwati
A bumper harvest of maize and small grains, good rains, guaranteed food security and a projected agricultural sector growth rate of 34 percent — all combined to cheer the nation’s farming spirit in 2021.
The bumper harvest improved the country’s Gross Domestic Product growth, food security, national grain stock levels and significantly decreased Zimbabwe’s import bill, among other major scores for the economy. Government input schemes, timely inputs distribution, constant supply of key utilities such as power and fuel to farmers and crowding-in the private and financial services as enunciated in the Agriculture Recovery Plan all turned the fortunes of the sector for the good. It is also in 2020/21 that the agriculture industry, which had set a five-year growth target of US$8,2 billion, surpassed the mark in a single year, registering another milestone in the sector.
There were, however, some challenges, especially in some sectors such as cotton and tobacco where some farmers experienced problems on payments.
After consecutive years of droughts and food insufficiency, 2021 saw farmers producing more than what is required for national consumption.
The good rainfall and Government support to farmers saw maize production increase by 199 percent from 907 628 tonnes produced in the 2019/2020 season to 2 717 171 tonnes.
The maize yield for the 2020/2021 season is the highest yield in 20 years because of the good rains and efficient farming programmes introduced by Government.
In addition to good rainfall, the practice of climate-proofed technologies (Pfumvudza/ Intwasa) significantly contributed to the increased yield levels supported by well-co-ordinated input programmes. Production of traditional grains increased by 128 percent from 152 515 tonnes in 2019/2020 to 347 968 tonnes for the 2020/2021 season. Sorghum increased to 244 063 tonnes, 135 percent more than 103 684 tonnes obtained during the 2019/2020 season.
Finger millet increased to 13 223 tonnes, 35 percent more than 9 799 tonnes produced in the 2019/2020 season.
Agriculture and the US$8,2 billion industry
The Agriculture and Food Systems Strategy, a strong component of the National Development Strategy 1, envisioned the attainment of a US$8,2 billion agricultural industry by 2025, but this was achieved within a year in 2021.
The industry grew by a stellar 36,2 percent to US$8,19 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow by another 10 percent next year.
This record growth in agriculture is partially responsible for Zimbabwe’s record-breaking annual economic growth of 7,8 percent predicted for 2021, the highest in Africa in the year.
The Agriculture and Food Systems Strategy was launched in 2020 as an integral part of the national development agenda being driven by President Mnangagwa. The approach is anchored on enabling agriculture policy and the regulatory environment to facilitate the flow of investment into the sector; appropriate agriculture investments for productivity, food security and resilience; efficient agricultural knowledge, technology and innovation system; and the agriculture sector coordination for responsive planning, implementation monitoring and evaluation.
Zimbabwe for the first time since 2005 became wheat self-sufficient as Government implemented the Agriculture Recovery Plan to boost food security and nutrition in line with Vision 2030 of attaining an upper middle income economy. Farmers this year harvested 337 212 tonnes of wheat from 66 436 hectares planted during the winter cropping season.
During the 2021 winter cropping season, 66 435.86 hectares were put under wheat, registering the third highest hectarage since independence and is only surpassed by plantings in 2004 (70 585ha) and 2005 (67 261ha).
Farmers close to water bodies to grow wheat including those with gardens, vleis and irrigation schemes were encouraged to grow wheat this year. Besides adequate water, farmers did not complain much about power outages as was the case during the past years.
Farmers in wheat growing areas were put in clusters for easy supply of power.
Agritex extension teams were in full force going to wheat growing areas training farmers on planting, calibration of planting machines, fertiliser application and disease control among other important agronomic practices.
Challenges were, however, encountered during input distribution. There were some delays in input distribution and experts advised farmers to continue planting even after the deadline.
Quelea birds also disturbed the crop, prompting the Government to intervene with chemicals to help farmers control the birds.
Harvesting was smooth this season as combine harvesters were secured on time mainly from the Belarus and John Deere facilities.
The Government has also transformed Agribank into a Land Bank, which will provide comprehensive financial and technical services to farmers and supporting projects aimed at promoting value chains in both private and community-based agriculture.
Farmers can now use the viability of their projects as collateral to access funding from the Land and Development Bank of Zimbabwe (Land Bank). This move will help a number of farmers who have been experiencing challenges to access funding.
Some institutions were refusing to accept the 99-year lease as collateral while other banks demanded immovable property.
While the Government resolves the bank-ability of 99-year leases and other tenure issues, the AFC will use project viability as collateral and not 99-year leases. All a farmer needs to have is a tenure document either an A1 permit or the new scrutinised A2 permit or that they are a communal farmer if they have a viable project.
That is the collateral and AFC will lend on that basis.
The 2021 tobacco marketing season closed on a high note with 210 million kilogrammes worth over US$588 million of the golden leaf having passed under the hammer.
Prices were this season firmer at the auction floors than those offered at the contract floors, although the highest auction price remained at US$4,99 per kilogramme, while the top price offered by a contractor was US$6,70 per kg.
Most farmers were happy with the producer prices being offered by buyers, although some contractors failed to pay them on time.
This resulted in the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board suspending some contractors from buying tobacco until they settled outstanding payments. The season also saw the bulk of the crop being sold through the contract system, a move which prompted stakeholders to call for affordable funding so auction floors could also remain in business. Auction floors handled less than 6,5 percent of the crop, while the other 93,5 percent came under contract floors.
This prompted the Government and the industry to come up with a Tobacco Production Localisation Revolving Fund with an initial injection of US$60 million to support growers.
Cotton farmers produced more than 150 000 tonnes of the crop during the 2020/21 season.
Cottco experienced challenges in paying the farmers and resorted to paying through groceries and household property such as furniture and farming implements.
Most farmers welcomed this move, with others calling on the parastatals to continue with the payments arrangement.
Cotton growers were, however, not happy with the delays in the payment of the outstanding dues from the previous season.
The farmers complained that this affected their operations. Government also intervened and paid farmers in batches.
Beef cattle numbers increased from 5 443 770 cattle in 2019 to 5 478 648 2020 this season.
The major reasons for the increase in numbers included reduction in disease related deaths (especially Tick-borne diseases) and poverty deaths, improved breeding methods, improved pastures and feed due to early rains received.
The Department of Veterinary Services warned farmers against complacency in dipping cattle as this will result in an increase in tick-borne diseases cases and deaths.
The department said it had enough dip chemicals to last until the end of year and all farmers not taking their livestock for dipping will be prosecuted. With good rains projected for the 2021-2022 cropping season, economic prospects for Zimbabwe are set to even shine more on the background of the contributions by agriculture.