The Brett Chulu Column
WITHOUT the perspective of disruptive innovation, the immense opportunities for improving Pfumvudza may not be visible to agribusiness stakeholders such as agro-preneurs, researchers, government, tech-preneurs — just to mention a few likely members of the potential value network that can be spawned by Pfumvudza.
The central point of this article is that the original Pfumvudza was just but a beginning — it can be made to go through a series of sequenced improvements, birthing new industries, new wealth and massive job creation. This writer will apply insights from disruptive innovation to build a case for Pfumvudza 2.0, Pfumvudza 3.0 and so on.
One of the key contributions of this writer’s research was to show that disruptive innovation can be modelled after a biological species invasion process with phases and stages.
In the model, the current Pfumvudza model is at the initial phase and stage of its potential development journey. Pfumvudza’s next phases and their constituent stages have to be deliberately planned for.
Irrigation and agro-tech
Technology is the key driver through which an initial disruptive innovation is made to continuously improve. Irrigation technology should be adopted next to replace the embryonic non-mechanised Pfumvudza agronomic technologies that were at the heart of de-complexing Pfumvudza production. The initial irrigation technologies for Pfumvudza should be simple and affordable. A good example is the simple drip kit powered by gravity and buckets. The aim of introducing simple irrigation technologies is to extend Pfumvudza production beyond the rainy season, allowing multi-cropping. This will allow more crop varieties to be grown, especially winter ones such as wheat, garlic and onions.
Early maize planting will also be made possible. In addition to simple irrigation technologies, proven mulching technologies such as the use of plastic-covered ridges can be used. This is called bootstrapping — incorporating existing technologies. The specific example of plastic-covered ridges is a pointer to the need to invest in research and development of water conservation technologies. The Netherlands can be a source of ideas as its agro-scientists and engineers have successfully developed watering technologies that have cut watering requirements by 70%.
The successor to the initial Pfumvudza improvements would be the introduction of small-scale or miniature mechanisation. This will enable small-scale farmers to produce on more Pfumvudza plots, 16 plots (1 hectare) at a go. Let us explore the production opportunities. On rain-fed mechanised Pfumvudza alone, at the scale of 1,8 million rural households, each doing 16 Pfumvudza maize plots, we can expect this country to produce between 22-29 million tonnes of maize, almost 10 times our historical peak maize production records.
If we divvy up the one hectare into eight maize Pfumvudza plots and eight soya bean Pfumvudza plots, our nation can potentially produce 11-14 million tonnes of maize and 2,8 million tonnes of soya bean. These levels of production are three times in excess of our annual maize requirement and about eight times our annual soya bean requirement. If we add irrigation, an all-year round, Pfumvudza production regime will score other record-breaking crop production levels.
It is clear that investment in research and development for Pfumvudza will have massive economic benefits for Zimbabwe. To that end, visionary entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe should consider setting up a Zimbabwean Food Valley after the Food Valley of The Netherlands to develop an ecosystem of research and development, agro-tech and agro-engineering solutions.
This will spawn a massive economic and industrial development ecosystem called a cluster (in the sense developed by Michael Porter).
There is no telling beforehand what sort of industries and enterprises will develop. However, the underlying principle is that highly competitive production and service networks will develop into a huge geographic spread, pulling in jobs and infrastructural development. If ever there is an economic initiative that can disproportionately contribute towards the attainment of Vision 2030, it is Pfumvudza 2.0 and possibly Pfumvudza 3.0. In that respect, water-harvesting technologies and irrigation development should overwhelmingly dominate any national development plan.
One common mistake corporates commit in crafting strategic plans is trying to accommodate every department — strategy is about choice — having the guts to focus on just a few levers. One of the levers for Zimbabwe’s national economic development strategy would a Pfumvudza-anchored cluster.
Pfumvudza farmers, who at the outset are essentially small-scale farmers, need to be trained to think like business people. They need to be motivated to see their Pfumvudza production as business. To that end, the Pfumvudza small-scale farmers need to be trained to the point where they see the need to invest and grow their businesses. The financial sector will need to adapt and create financing vehicles that will enable Pfumvudza farmers to acquire simple technologies, miniaturised mechanisation and basic irrigation. Government needs to create a fund that will support research and development as banks will find these ventures very risky.
One way government can mobilise funds is levying farmers a small percentage from their sales. Pfumvudza farmers need to be trained to go beyond primary production; they need to go up the production value chain, extending their play into secondary production. To deal with the challenge of scale, the Pfumvudza farmers can form cooperatives for secondary production and marketing. Legislation should adapt and create legal instruments for cooperatives — again — we can learn from the Dutch who have developed flexible legislation for cooperatives (a major feature of Dutch agri-business).
Rural industrialisation should be made a priority. New centres of dispersed industrialisation can be set up in rural areas as a natural consequence of cluster development.
We need to throw in a perspective on training on Pfumvudza 1.0.
This week we got a report from the agriculture ministry that just over three million people had been trained in Pfumvudza.
We need to be more accurate in using the term training. Conceptually, it would be more accurate to say over three million people are receiving training. The reason is simple; training is not the same as a seminar or a once-off demonstration. Training involves demonstrations and the trainee applying what they have observed. As a nation, we have not gone through the whole Pfumvudza cycle and so we cannot say people have been trained. We expect that the trainers themselves should have practically done the whole Pfumvudza cycle at least thrice.
In reality, the current Pfumvudza national effort should be treated as a pilot project that will yield lessons for the next cycle.
Each farmer will have some peculiar experiences as they implement Pfumvudza — those lessons will help improve the next cycle.
We will need at least three Pfumvudza cycles to perfect the production techniques. I will understand if our farmers fail to hit the top Pfumvudza numbers in the debut season. It is a law of production — any new enterprise needs time — in farming, at least three cycles are needed.
Chulu is a management consultant. — email@example.com.