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Market research, analysis necessary

Kudakwashe Gwabanayi
Journalist

THERE are so many farmers “stranded” with onions right now because the market is flooded with them. Currently, onions are going for an average US$0,40/kg.

There are also so many producers failing to push their cabbages in the market, which is selling at an average US$1 per six right now. There is just too much cabbage for sale in all markets at the present moment.

However, three months from now the same products will be in high demand.

In fact, these crops will be selling at US$1/kg and US$1/2 respectively.

Those with drying facilities for the onions will smile all the way to the bank because in March next year onion will be in short supply, and everyone will be hunting for it, like treasure.

Unfortunately, very few producers will still be having the onions then because most of them would have been affected by the rainy season.

For the cabbage farmer, it is even worse. During the festive season two heads of cabbages will be going for US$1. In March, vegetable vendors from as far as Victoria Falls, Kariba and Gwanda will be in Harare looking for a good deal that will give them a good profit because in these areas the cabbage can easily be sold for US$2 a head.

It is against this background that agronomists always urge farmers to do market research for whatever project that they want to venture into because there is nothing more painful than throwing away fresh produce after failing to sell it.

There are many variants that one must consider before embarking on a serious agriculture programme.

These include the size of land they have, the geographical location of land, the irrigation system at their disposal as well as distance from the market. The most determining factor however is the amount of arable land that one has.

Above 600ha

It is almost impossible to irrigate vast pieces of land above 300 hectares. Therefore farmers must maximise with the rains and make sure that they plant crops that give them good return on their investment.

Such crops include maize, tobacco, millet, rapoko, groundnuts, round nuts, sugar beans and soya beans, among others. These crops are planted depending on the soil type one has on his piece of land.

For example, you cannot plant round nuts or groundnuts on clay soils, it will be difficult to harvest these crops; they require sandy-loam soil.

Provided one has got the space, it is important that a farmer puts at least three crops so that he does not put all his eggs in one basket. Maize is a must, because it has a ready market and also does well in most parts of the country.

Soya bean is another good seller especially among oil producers. It fetches an average of US$500/tonne. Sugar bean is another crop that a farmer can never be stranded with.

At its peak, sugar beans could sell at US$1 650. These days there are varieties that can give one at least four tonnes per hectare like Agriseeds’ Hohodza.

This means, on one hectare a farmer can get US$6 600. This will also be the best time to look for contracts with beer makers like Delta Beverages for millet and other associated crops.

300-600ha

With such a farm, one is encouraged to maximise with one crop, in most instances maize. A farmer with such hectrage is somewhat limited in his choice of crops to put in the ground.

At most, one may have to do soya beans and maize only. This combination is a killer in that you can plant your maize in late October or early November and then plant your soya beans in early December.

When going for maize, late maturity varieties like Seed Co’s SC727 are a good choice as they have the potential to yield about 18 tonnes per hectare if all agronomic good practices are met.

Considering that the sole buyer of maize Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was buying maize at ZW$320 000/tonne in the 2020/21 season, one can conclude that there is money to be made by growing the staple food of the land.

50-250ha

Those with “small pieces” of land must seriously focus on contracts with oil producers for products such as groundnut and soyabeans. The other option mentioned earlier is to look for contract farming for millet for beer manufacturers.

The idea is to make sure that whatever you are planting has a buyer upon harvesting. Such pieces of land require more attention because you have fewer crops in the field and so the margin of error must be reduced.

A contract, with penalties and strict conditions and timing will ensure that the farmer puts all his attention on the crop.

Below 50ha

Farmers with smaller pieces of land are making more money these days. A farmer with 3ha of land can make more money than that with 100ha . This is mainly because you can easily set up an irrigation system on 3ha and produce throughout the year while those that have 100 ha face huge capital costs to put in irrigation systems.

With anything above 10ha one is encouraged to put maize for their subsistence. However, for those with land below 5ha, this is the season to make green money. One must go for horticultural crops that have early maturity indices.

Planting a hectare of tomatoes or cabbages at the end of this month will guarantee a farmer at least US$5 000. The price of tomatoes and cabbages sore to $1,20 and $1/3 respectively around the festive season.

Depending on the tomato variety one chooses to plant, a 10-tonne yield is easily achievable. There are so many fresh produce crops that will be in high demand during this season like carrots, lettuce, strawberries, chillies, broccoli, fine beans and many others. There is just so much to choose from as a farmer.

Poultry will also be in high demand, so those with small pieces of land can utilise them by doing chickens, piggery, ducks or even fish.

For those into animal husbandry, this is the most difficult time because grazing pastures would have dried up. Some animals will now be surviving on salt leaks and other supplements.

This is the best time to buy cattle especially from communal farmers because in most cases they cannot keep up with the costs of supplements. If they fail to supplement, the animals may die of hunger.

It is also important to mention that with the coming of rains, animals such as goats must have a well-drained shelter as they may die. Most farmers have resorted to raised cribs so that goats are high off the ground. This prevents them from diseases such as pulpy kidney.

Farmers with smaller spaces must also consider nurseries. With the coming of the rains, many people will be looking for seedlings to spruce up their gardens. Others will be looking for orchard trees so that they can easily grow under the rains.

Depending on where you are in the farming regions of the country, the season of making money is upon us!

Gwabanayi is a practising journalist and a farmer in his own right. — 0772 865 703 or gwabanayi@gmail.com

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