By Freeman Makopa
IN the past week, Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement minister, Anxious Masuka (AM) has toured farms growing barley under a contract farming system financed by the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed beverages blue-chip, Delta Corporation. The crop, which is a critical raw material for Delta’s mega operations, is currently not being grown at a large scale in Zimbabwe. But in this interview with our business reporter, Freeman Makopa (FM), Masuka said the future of barley production in Zimbabwe is bright as the government is rolling out policies that encourage farming. The agriculture minister projects that barley growing will increase to about 350 000 hectares in the next three years. This growth will be underpinned by the Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Plan (AIRDP) that was launched recently under a broad plan that strives to make Zimbabwe a self-sufficient economy for most crops. This plan is also meant to help the country save foreign currency by cutting imports. The AIRDP is one of the many policies that have been put in place to boost agricultural sector growth in the country following a difficult two decades where farming was affected by the transition stemming out of controversial agrarian reforms. Please read below to understand the minister’s views about the future of barley, as well as farming in general, as Zimbabwe gears for the 2021/2022 agricultural season:
FM: There have been calls to resuscitate Zimbabwe’s railway system for the efficient transportation of raw materials to farms and produce to the markets. Is this something that is getting top priority in the ministry?
AM: To eliminate imports of wheat, soya and other grains we will ensure that the rail system can now be available to do all these things. But the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development has a robust plan of resuscitating the railway system. You probably have seen an MOU (memorandum of understanding) consummated with Turkey and other countries. There are active discussions to try and do that. These are medium-to-long-term issues. Those that we can do immediately we can do, then we see the response. This is what we want to do.
FM: There have been concerns that barley competes with wheat. How accurate is this?
AM: As I said, the notion that barley competes with wheat is wrong. These are both national crops required for different national issues. If we can’t grow enough barley, we need to outlay money to import it. If we can’t grow wheat, we need to spend money to import wheat. This is how we manage our resources.
FM: Can you shed light on the Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Plan?
AM: The Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Plan is looking at 350 000 hectares of irrigable land in Zimbabwe. We are currently at 214 000 hectares (land under irrigation), perhaps actively irrigated 175 000 hectares. So, you can see from this year onwards that we will be both sufficient in wheat and also more than self-sufficient in barley. So, what we need to do is we want about 70 000 hectares for wheat annually and we will be able to get those easily.
FM: Tell us about the outlook for barley and wheat farming in Zimbabwe
AM: My expectation is that by this time next year, Mashonaland West will not only be producing as they do now, just over 55% of the country’s wheat. We must make ourselves more competitive in terms of exports and take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area. That is what we need to be priming ourselves to do because as an agro-based economy, we have said we want to create an environment that facilitates farming. Farming ought to be a business. Farmers should be able to say “I am going to work, not to my farm”.
FM: When we look at barley, there are a number of existing opportunities that are there. How are you going to improve capacity in terms of barley farming?
AM: At this juncture, Delta is planting just under 7 000 hectares, for which it estimates that it will produce 35 000 metric tonnes. This is against their requirement of about 22 000 metric tonnes. So, Delta, through this value chain financing, has already created national self-sufficiency in terms of barley. But more importantly we now have a surplus to export. With the accelerated irrigation plan, we envisage that we will have 360 000 hectares in the next three years. So, there is indeed no competition but they just need to rationalise the two crops. I expect that if there is an export market, we must see more barley being grown in the country.
FM: And you have said you will direct the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) to revisit the cost of water. Tell us more about this plan.
AM: For every hectare of wheat, Zinwa charges farmers 8,5 megalitres. And for every hectare of barley, they charge farmers 7,5 megalitres. However, there are efficient farmers who use 4,5 megalitres to five megalitres per hectare. So, they must not be charged the extra they have not utilised (Zinwa uses estimates to come up with the bills). There must be measuring devices to ensure that farmers can increase their viability by being charged for what they have exactly utilised and this is a directive that we have issued to Zinwa.
FM: What incentives do you give companies like Delta who are creating programmes for farmers?
AM: Delta does not need incentives. Delta is investing in securing its raw materials. We urge other corporates to invest in ensuring that their supply chain has better integrity. There are companies that set up bakeries on corners of streets without even knowing where the wheat is and there are corporates that think their wheat comes from the Grain Marketing Board. This model that has been displayed by Delta is the model that we would like other corporates to learn from so that we can have value chain finance. In terms of the Agricultural Recovery Plan, we have said every corporate must be involved in growing at least 40% of their raw materials. We can look at the specific requirements that each corporate needs in order for us to facilitate that production.