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Govt on stock diseases combat

UNDER government’s Vision 2030 programme, agriculture was placed at the centre of economic recovery. This week, our business reporter, Freeman Makopa (FM) spoke to Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development permanent secretary, John Basera (JB) to understand how several initiatives being undertaken to boost economic recovery have progressed.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

Fact file: John Basera
  •  Is a Zimbabwean renowned agronomist in the private sector and permanent secretary in the ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement.
  •  Graduated at University of Zimbabwe (2010) with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Agriculture.
  •  Holds a Masters in Business Administration from the Eastern and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI) and Maastricht School of Management (MSM).
  • Also holds a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Agribusiness Development and Business Dynamics.
  • Has extensive experience in agriculture with a focus on agronomy, agricultural research extension services, agricultural value chain management, agricultural strategy, finance and marketing in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Namibia.
  • Was a managing director at CBZ Agro-Yield and technical director at CBZ Holdings.
  •  Worked as an agronomy and extension services manager (Southern Africa) at Seed Co Limited
  •  Worked as a regional marketing agronomist at DuPont Pioneer
  • Worked as a crops manager at Matanuska (Pvt) Ltd

FM: Please share with us the interplay between agriculture and the manufacturing sector

JB: Zimbabwe is an agrarian economy. Most sectors are directly and indirectly linked to the agricultural sector. Based on these linkages, it is imperative that the sector performs to breathe life into the rest of the sectors, which is important for economic growth.

The sector provides employment and incomes directly and indirectly for about 70% of the population. It supplies 65% of the raw materials required by industries and contributes 40% of export earnings. Agriculture is also in pursuit of the growth of the rural economy. The sector is up to four times more powerful at reducing poverty than any other sector.

In fact, agriculture is the Vision 2030 accelerator. This means getting it right in agriculture presents great opportunities for inclusive rural economic development.

FM: Tell us more about the Agriculture Recovery Plan strategy

JB: All the sub-sector blueprints were aligned to aspirations underlying the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) and crafted to engender the envisaged agricultural transformation agenda whose six outcomes are food security, import substitution, diversified exports, value addition, employment creation, improved incomes and standards of living. The Agriculture Recovery Plan was endorsed by Cabinet and launched by His Excellency, the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) in line with his Vision 2030 of empowering Zimbabwe and propelling all citizens into an upper middle-income status by 2030.

FM: What are the immediate objectives?

JB: The immediate target was to reverse the continued structural decline in food production in all agricultural value chains including the grains and oilseeds sectors. The best and smartest export any economy can ever wish for is not to import what the economy can competitively produce locally. The plan is being implemented in a space where the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy broadly spells out the roadmap of ensuring that the agriculture sector achieves a US$8,2 billion economy by year 2025.

FM: Climate change has been a great concern

JB: The impact of climate change and variability on the agricultural sector cannot be overemphasised. The government, through the ministry, has over the last few years taken deliberate interventions to climate-proof the agricultural sector as occurrence of droughts is becoming frequent and more pronounced with devastating impact to vulnerable farming households.  Climate change effects and variabilities pose the greatest challenge on our quest to ensure food and nutritional security. Proactively, government resolved to tackle this threat head-on and various programmes including Pfumvudza/Intwasa initiative, accelerated water harvesting and dam construction, irrigation rehabilitation and development; were initiated. The food crops production category increased by an average of 189% in the 2020/2021 cropping season with specific sub-sector growth levels as shown by the provided table. During the same season, cash crops production grew as follows: tobacco (13.6%), cotton (94%) and soyabean (51%).

On livestock, the ministry is in a drive to contain and eradicate scourge of animal diseases especially that claimed in excess of 500 000 cattle in a period of four years to date. The ministry introduced an intensive blitz dipping programme as well as blitz tick grease programme under the presidential livestock programme supporting rural livestock farmers. January Disease related deaths and cases decreased by over 47% in 2021.

FM: Tell us more about these blitz?

JB: The blitz tick grease programme has been in existence for two years now and is implemented nationwide covering the eight rural provinces, targeting distribution of one million kilogrammes of tick grease to one million households. The target was surpassed and to date 1 069 000 kg of tick grease has been distributed across all targeted rural provinces. The launch of the Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan saw the resuscitation of over 400 dip tanks in 2021. The country has a total of 4 000 dip tanks of which about 75% are functioning. The blitz dip tank resuscitation programme will be targeting 1 000 dip tanks in 2022. For the country to sustainably eradicate January Disease and other tick-borne related diseases, we have to dip all the animals religiously. Government is accelerating the local manufacture of dipping chemicals working with the private sector for import substitution. The import substitution drive will have an ultimate effect of reducing the cost of dipping chemicals by over 52% and make acaricides affordable to the generality of the country’s livestock farmers.

FM: Will this be enough to deal with the crisis

JB: Other initiatives in the livestock sub-sector include provincial integrated youth hubs where youths in all the 10 districts were empowered with a seed support of 600 heifers by the President. We also have Gonarezhou Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) fence project where it is targeted to fence a perimeter of 164 km in Gonarezhou National Park. To date 108,5 km have been erected. This project is targeted at reducing and containing buffalo-livestock interaction since buffaloes are the transmitting agent of FMD. Effectiveness of this project allows farmers to avert loss of cattle through the diseases and trade in beef and related products will be safe for human consumption.

FM: What are the climate proofing agricultural initiatives?

JB: Accelerated irrigation rehabilitation and development programmes are the panacea to climate proofing. The ministry is implementing the accelerated National Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Programme aiming to increase the area under functional irrigation from 175 000ha in 2020 to 350 000ha by year 2025. Flagship programmes, such as, the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme (SIRP) are aimed at harnessing the country’s water bodies’ potential of irrigating over two million hectares. An additional 6000ha under construction will be ready by 2022 winter season. The ministry is aggressively exploring ways to revitalise all the 450 smallholder irrigation schemes totaling 26 000ha.

FM: How are farm mechanisation programmes progressing?

JB: The ministry is seized with speeding up mechanisation programmes to modernise the sector by increasing the tillage and combining capacities by approximately 300 000 hectares and 200 000 hectares, respectively. Several flagship mechanisation programmes, such as the Belarus Phase 1, Belarus Phase 2, the John Deere Facility and the Bain/BancABC mechanisation facility were consummated. These programmes are being administered through banks who on-lend equipment to farmers on an end user pay basis over tenor periods ranging from two to five years. Government has created two agricultural equipment leasing companies. These institutions were capitalised with equipment worth over US$22 million to hire out mechanisation services to farmers at affordable rates. The sector aims to get to a point where a farmer does not necessarily need to own a piece of sophisticated and expensive equipment. The services must be readily and affordably available.

FM: How effective has been the Pfumvudza/Intwasa Initiative?

JB: The climate proofed presidential input support programme targets to climate proof the smallholder food production sub-sector. Countrywide adoption of conservation agriculture principles and tenets are being witnessed in minimum soil disturbance to maintain the soil structure, mulching, religious adoption of crop rotations. The programme aims to inculcate a new culture to transition smallholder farmers from subsistence farming to commercial smallholder farmers. It is a Vision 2030 accelerator programme as it seeks to upscale value creation and incomes at household level targeting over three million households in the 2022/23 summer season up from 2,3 million in its first year of implementation in 2020. The programme in its first year of implementation contributed 41% to total maize production in the 2020/21 season which saw the country breaking maize production records.

FM: Tell us about the National Enhanced Agricultural Productivity Scheme (NEAPS).

JB: One of the cross-cutting imperatives in the NDS1 is crowding-in the participation of the private sector in key and strategic sectors of the economy. The NEAPS is a government facilitated and financial services sector funded scheme which supports and contracts A1 and A2 farmers on over 200 000ha of strategic commercial crops such as maize, wheat, soyabean and traditional grains for import substitution. During the 2020/21 season the NEAPS contributed to over 30% to the total maize output. The flagship programme also saw wheat production increasing from about 100 000mt in 2019 to 212 000mt in 2020 to over 330 000mt in 2021 against a national annual requirement of over 360 000mt.

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