BY MELODY CHIKONO
The Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) completed a restructuring process early this year and has recently introduced an online permit application system as it seeks to conclude an ongoing transformation from being a collector of levies to a driver of innovation within the agricultural sector. In the context of these seismic changes, our senior business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) this week spoke to AMA CE Clever Isaya (CI, pictured) who says the transformation journey has been an exciting one and that the authority is currently revisiting several legislations that govern production and marketing of crops that are susceptible to side marketing. Below are the excerpts from the interview:
MC: You are mandated with the overall regulation of the production, marketing and processing of agricultural products in Zimbabwe. Can you take us through the journey you have travelled so far in terms of trying to achieve your mandate.
CI: It has been an exciting journey so far; the first step was to re-configure the Authority to become an effective regulator and development partner for agricultural growth in Zimbabwe. As you might be aware, in the past AMA was known more as a “revenue collector” than a progressive regulator.
My immediate task was to remodel the Authority into a key player in the transformation of our agriculture sector. I’m happy with the progress we have made to date in terms of transforming the Authority and the positive feedback that we are receiving from our stakeholders. Central to our transformation is the adoption of new broad-based policies and regulations that enhance the competitiveness of our agriculture sector.
We have also taken a deliberate approach to use technology and digital solutions as key drivers of our transformative journey. More importantly, our parent ministry, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement has been very supportive in terms of giving support and guidance towards implementation of our strategy. This has made the task a whole lot easier.
MC: Issues of side marketing in agriculture have also been rampant in the sector. How are you tackling this?
CI: We are revisiting several legislations that govern production and marketing of crops that are susceptible to side marketing with the aim of making them watertight. The recent introduction of Statutory Instrument 96 of 2021 (Control of Sale of Cotton) is one such move that is aimed at curbing side marketing. In addition, our current contract production and marketing models are overdue for review and in some instances there are actually non-existent.
We are now working flat out to make sure that we have effective regulations in place, we are also enhancing our capacity to enforce regulations and introducing deterrent penalties for those caught on the wrong side of the law. Decentralisation of buying and selling points, ensuring farmers are paid on time is also key in dealing with side marketing menace.
MC: The authority has also been accused of being reluctant when it comes to enforcing effective deterrent penalties resulting in total chaos in the marketing of cotton. This has been attributed to the failure of the cotton industry between 2012 and 2015. What is your comment and what should we expect going forward ?.
CI: The introduction of a raft of changes in regulations governing the production and marketing of cotton is a clear demonstration of our commitment to bringing order in the cotton sector. Going forward, you will see a lot of changes in the model as it will become stricter across all key touch points. Late disbursements of inputs, late payments to farmers, side marketing are some of the ills that we are going to deal with decisively in the next season.
MC: There has also been a call for policies that encourage ease of doing business. What are you doing on this front?
CI: As a regulator, we participate in several points in the agricultural value chains. This includes registration of farmers, buyers and sellers as well as ensuring farmers are paid a fair price for their produce and on time. So we are working round the clock so that these processes are simplified in addition to pushing for various policy reforms in agri-markets. You will start to see establishment of functional markets across all the regions of Zimbabwe.
MC: You recently launched an online permit application system. What other new innovations do you have in the pipeline.?
CI: I’m happy to let you know that we have lined up a number of exciting new digital market innovations to enhance the competitiveness of our agriculture sector. We will be launching an e-market platform for agricultural commodities soon. We envisage that the platform will make it easier for farmers to access a fully functional market for their produce. In the past market access has been a major challenge for our farmers. Other digital applications that we are going to introduce are on markets, commodity prices, demand forecasting, information dissemination and general agro-market trends.
MC: Do you think the sector is ready for technological overhaul?
CI: Definitely. If you look at the National Development Strategy 1, one of its focus areas is to modernise the economy through the use of ICTs and digital technology. Agriculture was identified as one of the major anchors for economic recovery and as such accelerated adoption of technologies is central to the delivery and success of the Agricultural and Food Systems Transformation Strategy.
MC: Going forward, what is the outlook for AMA.
CI: You will see AMA playing a central role in the transformation of agriculture in Zimbabwe. Markets, market development, market access, market infrastructure and creation of an enabling regulatory environment will be the major focus areas for AMA as we move towards attainment of Vision 2030.