Elita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
Experts in the agricultural industry have pledged to assist farmers with technical expertise to boost productivity since low yields have been blamed on lack of knowledge and skills, rather than idleness.
Poor yields attributed to droughts and lack of farming knowledge have forced Zimbabwe to import staple food, especially maize and wheat.
Researchers, input suppliers, farmers unions and non-governmental organisations made the pledge at a Food Security Consultative Workshop hosted by the University of Zimbabwe in Harare on Wednesday.
They agreed that most citizens now have land, but were failing to maximise it owing to lack of skills and knowledge.
Local farmers average maize yields of 0,85 tonnes a hectare, well below Sadc averages.
Malawi produces on average 2-3,5 tonnes per hectare while South Africa averages 5-7 tonnes per hectare.
Soil scientist in the Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering Department at the University of Zimbabwe, Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki said there was concern on the endemic food security and there was need to take action to correct the situation.
“The University of Zimbabwe realised there was a challenge of food security and all stakeholders have agreed that we have a real problem. We had to call for a consultative stakeholder workshop to come up with possible solutions to the challenges.
“We need to work with stakeholders to solve food security challenges. For instance there are massive shortages of soya beans in the country. We are losing millions of dollars importing soyabeans when we have farmers who can produce the crop,” he said.
Prof Mpepereki said there was need to train farmers rather than accusing them of being lazy.
“If farmers are trained the situation will improve. Farmers require technical advisory service to boost yields,” he said.
He said some local seed varieties had the capacity yield of more than 17 tonnes per hectare, but farmers were averaging 0,8 tonnes per hectare.
Prof Mpepereki proposed the establishment of the Food Security Research and Development Centre.
“We will be able to carry out action research and offer practical lessons to farmers. The centre can come up with specific varieties tailor made for certain areas and this will boost food security.
“We have put a bid to the World Bank and submitted a proposal for funding. If successful, the money will be used to train people who will later train farmers,” he said.
“Instead of blaming them and calling them all sorts of names, we should as stakeholders, take it upon ourselves to transfer the knowledge we have to them.
“We have so many educated people, but what is the sector getting from them. The trained and highly skilled personnel should transfer knowledge to farmers.”
Bankers, who attended the workshop, said they were not willing to invest money to farmers who are not productive as they would not receive their money back.
“Banks require collateral as a mitigatory measure in case the farmers fail to pay. Banks have been accused of not willing to support agriculture, but the funds we borrow to farmers belong to depositors and they should be secure.
“Stakeholders and even the farmers should be innovative and come with ways of funding agriculture. Farmers can form schemes that can access money without the requirement of collateral,” said a bank official who requested anonymity.