WE are getting to the crop farming season and warning shots of an early season have already been sounded.
Districts and provincial agricultural shows have been held throughout the country.
My question is how can we make these agricultural shows stimulate competitive spirit and in turn promote good agricultural practices among farmers?
It is my contention that a lot still needs to be done so that agricultural shows are not merely calendar activities.
What you see is that year after year you almost have the same faces participating in these shows with very little new entries and this could be a sign that there are very few farmers who are going into their fields with a conscious mind of wanting to enter into an agricultural competition.
The situation is even more pronounced in the livestock sector where you could find one or two farmers participating and proudly walking away with position one and two and the prizes that go with it.
My feeling is that if these agricultural shows, say at district level, are well patronised and competition parameters communicated in advance, it could stimulate the number of participants for provincial shows or such shows as the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair.
I am aware that it takes resources to organise and hold such events and hence the need for organisers to approach the local business community and value chain players to sponsor some of the activities.
A local butcheries association can sponsor a prize for the best steer on the show for example and the extension workers can then define parameters that they will use for judging the best steer and send word out to farmers to compete based on the set criterion.
Local veterinary drug suppliers could sponsor a prize on animal health section, working with the department of veterinary services; the Zimbabwe Republic Police could sponsor a section on branding and anti-stock theft and so forth.
The point I am trying to make is that there are many sections within the livestock value chain which can be developed and sponsorship sought from relevant players.
There are many players within the livestock value chain who want to promote their brands for example, individual abattoir operators, abattoir associations, farmers associations, insurance companies in the livestock sector, stock feed manufacturers, beef wholesalers, auctioneers among others.
There is so much scope that can be explored for the benefit of the livestock sector but there has to be active mobilisation to ensure the critical mass is attained in terms of numbers of livestock farmers exhibiting in these shows.
In some communities we have livestock development committees and associations but an agricultural show comes and passes without anyone of them competing in such exhibitions.
If these structures could be activated to mobilise participants and ensure the critical masses of farmers is enrolled for the competition it could see the agricultural shows at district level become vibrant and inevitably this translates to bigger shows even at the ZITF.
I long to see livestock smallholder farmers participating in these shows such as the ZITF so that it is not only the familiar big boys and research stations taking part.
How does an agricultural show such as the one that is held concurrently with ZITF come and go with no livestock farmers from Bulilima, Nkayi, Lupane and all other districts, yet there are very successful farmers in all those districts?
Smallholder farmers hold the largest chunk of our national herd in terms of the livestock population and it’s a misnomer that an agricultural show comes and goes without their participation.
In fact, I think there should be a category for the best smallholder livestock farmers during ZITF. I am very much alive to the livestock movement restrictions in recent years due to the nagging foot and mouth outbreaks. I know that someone is saying it costs money for the farmer to attend but I will tell you that I have attended a ward level agricultural show with only one livestock farmer who brought his two cattle and walked away with the prize.
What does it take for one to hoof his/her animal to the venue of the show which is less than three kilometers from his/her homestead?
We have to stimulate participation of farmers and make agricultural shows about farmers not the situation where 90 percent of exhibitors are Government departments, parastatals and funeral policy providers. Where are the farmers, the bona fide stakeholders of the event?
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