‘Put every piece of land to good use’

LAST week, Zimbabwe and other African Union countries celebrated the 8th Africa public service day which is celebrated in June annually. The commemorations which ended with Zimbabwe getting a chance to host the 9th session commemorations in 2023 laid bare the challenges and triumphs of the public service sector in Africa. Senior business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) spoke to Agricultural Technical Extension Services (Agritex) acting director, Stancilae Tapererwa (ST) to understand how Agritex works. Below are the excerpts of the interview:

MC: Can you take us through the structure of the Agritex department?

ST: Our department of Agritex is represented from ward level. In Zimbabwe we have got 1500 rural wards and in each ward we are supposed to have three  Agritex officers, giving us an establishment of 4500. In the past, the major challenge  was mobility, moving from one corner of the ward to the other .

We are happy that the president of Zimbabwe talked to the stakeholders that we work with, particularly FSG (Fertilizer Seed Group) and Valley Seeds. Each one of them pledged 2 500 motorcycles to make them 5 000. Fortunately last week in Matabeleland North where we were handing  motorcycles to our  staff, FSG indicated that they hadincreased the allocation to a total of  3200. The issue of mobility across the country has been addressed.

This also improved on  extension delivery in the country. As you know we have been moving from one place to the other training  households. This year we embarked on Pfumvudza programmes where we were training 2 200 households. Our  officers would move from one corner to the other training them.

We have also realised that in order to move with times, we need to supply our staff with tablets. We bought  tablets using treasury funds. We have managed to supply almost two-thirds of them  and we are hoping to supply all of them.

We need them to take coordinates when they are in the field and know what is happening at each and every farm.

We have engaged some partners which are the  University of Zimbabwe and Syngenta (a chemical company). Once we have given them coordinates they should be able to monitor what is happening at each and every farm.

Obviously, there are also challenges of connectivity in some areas making them fail to transmit the information to the headquarters.

Also they need data bundles. So these are issues that we are supplying as a ministry.

MC: What kind of investments do you need in terms of resources?

ST: As we speak we still have challenges in terms of computers at our district and provincial offices so we need to be addressing those areas. We have eight provincial offices and at each we have an agronomist,  a livestock officer and a horticulture officer. We need three of those at each province and then at district level it’s the same.

At district level we have 60 district level officers.

MC: What are the issues that you have observed as affecting the farmers’  aim of achieving sustainability?

ST: The  issue of climate change is topical. Sometimes the  season starts well but ends abruptly. So we are addressing this by introducing Pfumvudza where we are saying  farmers should  dig holes during the dry season. The other issue is that of inputs. Not everyone has access to inputs but then the President has introduced the Presidential Input Programme to assist those that have no access to them.

Also, government has said those with land and have  no access to inputs can get joint ventures. So the ministry is saying those famers who have not regularised their joint ventures need to come to our Gungunyana building with their joint venture forms so so that our legal section will look at them and  then are signed by the minister. This is to ensure that every piece of land is put to good use.

MC: Is there any criteria for joint ventures?

 ST: There is no such prescription. If you have resources and I have land we can have a partnership.

These partnerships should be a  win-win situation where myself as the owner of the land will gain something and also that there is skills transfer so that when the relationship ends, I will be in a better position and I remain with some of the equipment on the farm. The intention, however is not to reverse the land reform programme.

MC: Besides those other issues we discussed, how prevalent is the issue of fertiliser shortages on the farms?

ST: I am not qualified to talk about that but what I’m aware of is that last year we were importing fertiliser and could not get our top dressing on time because of the cyclone in Mozambique. However, our fertiliser manufacturing companies are doing everything they can to ensure that they produce enough fertiliser for this country. Maybe the Ministry of Industry can give us figures.

MC: Recently some ministers came out lashing out at GMB officials and Agritex officers for looting inputs and likened them to witches. What is your comment on this?

ST: I’m aware that there has been some misuse and abuse of inputs. You know when you are dealing with many people you are likely to come across people who break the rules. But it is not as rampant as people believe. Generally our people are law abiding but there are one or two cases where people are tempted to abuse inputs.

Our advice to Agritex officers is that if you have been involved in abuse and misuse  of these inputs please stop that. The inputs should get to the intended users as defined by the government.

MC: But what are you doing to ensure that it stops completely.

ST: The first strategy  of course is to educate them that the inputs should go to intended beneficiaries. If the misuse or abuse of the inputs continues the law should take its  course.