THE aim of this farming column, during the past five years, has been to serve as a guide, critic, monitor and information hub in an attempt to inform and transform Zimbabwe’s outmoded farming practices and enhance the role of the agricultural producer in the economy while improving the livelihoods of Zimbabweans in general.
The modernisation of the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe is largely centred on the mechanisation, digitisation and new technologies drive, envisaged to buoy the agro-industry beyond 2020.
Through discourse and research on new agro technologies, in tandem with organic ethno-botanical practices of our forefathers, it is hoped that Zimbabwe will produce homegrown solutions for rural crop and livestock farmers for Zimbabwe’s new scientific agricultural outlook.
In a trying year, dominated by the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, which brought about a change in our normal lifestyle and economic activities, agriculture in Zimbabwe was not spared from the economic meltdown of the scourge.
After what initially appeared to be another summer of heatwaves, December 2020 witnessed a welcomed increase in precipitation throughout Zimbabwe, with temperatures averaging between 18-25oC and a 58 percent humidity factor which, under normal circumstances, points to a productive agricultural season.
Zimbabwe cannot afford to throw caution to the wind or allow the recent laxity over the threat of COVID-19 to undermine our chances of recovery in this vital agro-economic sector.
In Zimbabwe, the womb of time has produced predictable seasonal rainfall in the past, with farmers traditionally relying on rain-fed crops.
However, climate change, due to man-induced global warming, has altered the seasons and rainfall patterns; farmers now need to be cognisant of these global ecological changes that have altered our ecology and traditional farming practices.
As a result, meteorological forecasts and monitoring have become indispensable to modern farming.
On a more positive note, 2020 witnessed the impact of Corteva Agriscience products on the local market. Corteva Agriscience, the agricultural division of Dow Dupont (NYSE; DWDP), the largest US-based global agricultural inputs provider, introduced Pannar brand seeds to Zimbabwe’s Valley Seeds portfolio that yielded exceptional results.
Pannar seeds is one of Corteva’s premium seed brands in Africa.
It is encouraging to note that the prestigious Pannar Seed brand, a well-respected member of the international agro-seed industry, has now established its footprint in Zimbabwe.
As evidenced on a recent fact-finding field trip in the Mashonaland West and Central areas; namely, Mvurwi, Guruve, Karoyi and Chinhoyi, the collaboration between Zimbabwe’s valley seeds and Corteva Agriscience’s Pannar and Pioneer brand seeds has already begun to yield results.
The nutrient-rich and well-aerated soils of some of the farms I visited showed promise of a good harvest for the 2020-2021 agro season.
Not so encouraging, however, was the state of most of the rural livestock in Mashonaland West and Central.
Here, over two-thirds of the provinces’ communal herds have succumbed to recurring tick-borne diseases, particularly theileriosis.
This fatal disease, that has persisted since 2015, has created a vicious cycle in Zimbabwe which needs to be attended to and eliminated as a matter of urgency.
Permanent long-term solutions to tick-borne diseases on our communal national cattle herd in each province should be a matter of national priority.
Disease control campaigns and veterinary intervention in each of the cattle ranching provinces should be part of the current devolution programme.
Interminable solutions to tick-born diseases need to be undertaken throughout the country, combining high-tech, live surveillance systems, veld management and precision dipping.
Also, on the veterinary side, the current increase in precipitation has already resulted in the increase of midge and fly-borne diseases as well as fluke and worms.
December being a major tick period, redwater, heart water and gall sickness will become prevalent and should be guarded against.
The world of science and technology in the new millennium has brought several innovations to the global agricultural template and it was gratifying to note, on my recent trip, that some farmers have heeded my call to embrace the new technological platforms.
These include LIT digital registration and Dairy-maid digital milk App and other Artificial Intelligence (AI) Apps which are now available in Zimbabwe.
Contemporary agriculture production in Zimbabwe should be a multi-sectorial and inter-ministerial concern.
Food security strategies and synergies need to be created and co-ordinated between the Ministries of agriculture, energy, transport, health, labour, technology, education and information.
This calls for accelerated agro-scientific development and use of digital platforms, ICTs and AI to maximise our agricultural output.
Whilst the new agricultural policy, with the attendant devolution programmes bid to develop rural economies in each province, is a step in the right direction, rural agricultural capacitation at village level still remains a cause of concern and I feel needs to be attended to in order to achieve the targeted provincial economic growth.
The welcomed resuscitation of irrigation schemes since 2017 has been critical in ensuring the sustainability of agriculture and livestock production.
However, the installation of irrigation infrastructure for farmers should be expedited throughout the country to include all farming sub-sectors and regions.
Regrettably, my appeal for urgent price control measures in the agricultural and food sectors to be instituted by the authorities against the unabated price increases during the 2019-2020 season went unheeded and continued unabated and is being repeated during this season, rendering many impoverished households destitute.
Price escalations, particularly in the agro-supply sector of the economy is deleteriously affecting national food security as most farmers cannot afford to farm and calls for attention forthwith.
Traditional agro-practices in Zimbabwe have also undergone changes. Contrary to traditional norms, the 2020 festive season’s (no longer with jingle bells, snow or sleighs) ‘new normal’ trends in agriculture call for limited contact between those tending their fields.
No longer can we continue our traditional agricultural practices where families, neighbours and workers gathered in close proximity to sow, reap or harvest their crops.
It is important to remind ourselves that whilst travel is unlimited during this season, with urban, rural and Diaspora Zimbabweans re-uniting and meeting, COVID-19 still calls for extreme care, through safe-distancing, sanitising and the proper wearing of masks.
Life is precious, let us stay alive!
Dr Tony M. Monda is currently researching Agronomy, Farming and Veterinary epidemiology in Zimbabwe. tonym.MONDA@gmail.com