The Brett Chulu Column
THE Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into being on January 1, 2020. It carries with it risks and opportunities. This article will focus on one opportunity — the Zimbabwean birthed Pfumvudza technique. Pursuing sustainable agriculture will result in the shaping of agro-value chains in Zimbabwe.
The Pfumvudza concept that has been popularised is a compromise of the original sustainable farming model that did not use synthetic inputs. The original model was 100% organic. An adoption of the original organic Pfumvudza will create a massive competitive advantage for Zimbabwean produce and agro-based value-added products. This presents a huge opportunity to exploit in the context of the AfCFTA. Sustainable agriculture is a big focal point in the AfCTFA. There are plans within the AfCTA structures to award certification for agricultural products made through sustainable agriculture practices. Organic Pfumvudza positions Zimbabwe well to establish an early foothold in this area. Not only will organic Pfumvudza make Zimbabwe agriculture produce competitive in Africa but the world over.
The current challenge with organic farming is that it is difficult to commercialise at scale in a single country due to lack of simple technologies – organic farming is synonymous with high production cost for niche markets. The lack of industrial scale organic production can be easily solved in a unique way — Zimbabwe is the only country right now that has the potential to do that. How is that possible? The non-organic Pfumvudza model that has been rolled out is a powerful pilot project that has the potential to mobilise millions of small-scale farmers to produce efficiently at world-class yield levels. If the current national scale Pfumvudza model succeeds, there is scope to add sustainability to efficiency — a powerful combination that will achieve low cost and sustainability.
Ahead of the Netherlands
How will low cost be achieved? It will happen by way of closed-loop agriculture or circular agriculture. Closed-loop agriculture is about making sure inputs for agriculture are kept as local as possible, with waste from agriculture being returned as inputs. The Netherlands has cast a vision of being the leaders in circular agriculture by 2030. It turns out that as a country we are way ahead of the Netherlands in this regard as the concept has been tried and tested here in Zimbabwe from the 1980s — it has not been popular because it has never gained enough support to become mainstream. Now that Pfumvudza has been popularised, organic Pfumvudza may have a chance of becoming mainstream. In organic Pfumvudza as developed here in Zimbabwe, all the key inputs (perhaps with the exception of seeds) will be produced on the farm or within the locality of the farm. These inputs will include fertilisers and disease control. These inputs will simply be harvested from nature and from the by-products of farming itself. Such an approach will lower operational costs by over 95% from the current production costs per unit area.
The implications are huge — organic food can be priced cheaper than non-organically produced food. Zimbabwe can actually build a huge global brand through building a massive reputation for producing healthy, sustainably produced food that is competitively priced. By aggregating the produce from millions of small-scale farmers, Zimbabwe can build a huge surplus of organically produced food that can be exported. We could actually have a brand identity for these sustainably produced food – we leave this to our marketing experts to help us.
There are seismic implications for existing agro-value chains. A move towards organic Pfumvudza will upend the agro-chemical industry in Zimbabwe — it is a necessary evil that has well-documented business and economics precedent called creative destruction. A new industrial cluster to replace the old order will naturally emerge as smart entrepreneurs seize opportunities — the most promising opportunities will be the manufacture of organic inputs for the export market. Our farmers, under organic Pfumvudza will be self-reliant in terms of organic inputs, shutting the scope for a big organic agrochemicals industry targeting the local market. On the balance, the emergence of an organic food production cluster will outweigh the destruction of the old industrial order.
We are now past the argument for making the case for small agriculture (small-Ag) as a legitimate vehicle for value creation. In South African, agro-related academics and researchers, including leading agricultural economists in that country are pushing the case for a bigger role of small-Ag in that country’s economy, not on the basis of politics but sheer economics. One argument being advanced is that the old agricultural model in SA was that big-Ag would be the creators of employment for thousands who would get the income to support agriculture as consumers. The new thinking is that small-scale farmers can become employment creators. It is not a uniquely South African idea — before European and the US’s relatively recent policy of get-big-or-get-out in agriculture, the small family farm was the mainstay of agriculture. Clearly, the Zimbabwean small-Ag version buttressed by Pfumvudza is in line with the emergent thinking in southern Africa.
Organic Pfumvudza, as a perfect example of closed loop agriculture, is right up the alley of our nation’s devolution ethos. Organic Pfumvudza applies to all horticulture crops grown in Zimbabwe — imagine the untapped power this country could unleash when we become the leader in producing a huge variety of organic fruits and vegetables at low cost? Our national unique competitive advantage that would not be easily replicated elsewhere will be our ability to mobilise millions of farmers to farm at a very high standard, leveraging on our citizens’ growing self-reliance mindset and high work ethos.
For me this is soft power waiting to be tapped.
Chulu is a management consultant and a classic grounded theory researcher who has published research in an academic peer-reviewed international journal. — email@example.com