Walter Mswazie, Features Correspondent
WHEN the Government introduced the command agriculture scheme at the beginning of the 2016-2017 farming season to address food security challenges in the country, naysayers said it would fail.
However, farmers such as Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Deputy Minister (responsible for cropping) Davis Marapira have proved them wrong.
A visit to his LaMotte Farm along the Masvingo-Mashava Road will quickly remind one that they are in a reputable farmer’s territory as they are welcomed by a herd of cattle whose pen is a few metres from the farm entrance. A short distance away, a jovial flock of sheep greets one from yet another pen.
Deputy Minister Marapira started off with 30 beasts in 2007 but now boasts of 600 head of cattle from which he donates some bulls for breeding to his constituents in Masvingo North.
He visits his farm every weekend and also takes the opportunity to interact with his constituents as well as initiate development projects in the area.
Deputy Minister Marapira makes it a point that he takes a walk around a portion of the 300 hectare farm, inspecting his crops for pests or diseases.
Before his workers spray pesticides, the deputy minister makes sure the quantities are correct and becomes part of the workforce as he believes successful farming requires a hands-on approach.
The A2 farmer said he was allocated the farm by Government after considering his capacity to produce.
In fact, Deputy Minister Marapira said he demonstrated that he is an able farmer after he did wonders on a 30 hectare piece of land in Hwendedzo area in Masvingo North constituency. He said he used to deliver not less than 300 tonnes of maize from that piece of land to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).
At his LaMotte Farm, he has livestock, 100 ha of maize and another 100 ha of sugar beans thereby becoming a shining example of the success of the command agriculture scheme. He is expecting a yield of 1 500 tonnes of maize.
Command agriculture is an agricultural scheme aimed at ensuring food self-sufficiency in the country. The scheme targeted farmers near water bodies.
Each participating farmer is required to commit five tonnes per hectare towards repayment of advanced loans in the form of irrigation equipment, inputs and chemicals, mechanised equipment, electricity and water charges. The farmers would retain surplus produce.
Deputy Minister Marapira said while the crop is irrigated, the rains save him the trouble of sourcing water as surrounding water sources are inadequate for his massive farming initiative.
He said the project uses much water from Mucheke River, which is sometimes overwhelmed.
“Last year, when the weather conditions were not favourable, I managed to deliver 500 tonnes of maize to the GMB as I had cultivated a smaller portion of land. But this year I’ve cultivated 100 hectares of land and I’m looking forward to harvesting 1 500 tonnes of maize which I’ll deliver to the GMB at a cost of $390 per tonne,” he said.
He said his farm is heavily mechanised with an array of machinery used for planting, spraying pesticides and herbicides, fertiliser application and irrigation.
“I use state-of-the-art irrigation equipment. I use a centre pivot which has been recommended worldwide and is also time saving. With centre pivots, your germination rate is more than 95 percent as you can easily provide the correct amount of moisture to the plant. I’ve also introduced this new and cost effective irrigation system to other irrigation schemes such as Danmore and Hwendedzo in my constituency and they’re already doing well,” said Deputy Minister Marapira.
He criticised farmers who rarely visit their farms saying they should not be part of the command agriculture scheme as farming is a hands-on business where a farmer has to be on the ground witnessing and taking part in all farm activities.
“Farming is a science which calls for practical action. In command agriculture, we don’t expect cellphone farmers as you have to be there at every stage of farming. I make sure that before we plant anything, we’ve tested the soil for things such as its alkalinity. This guides every farmer on the type of fertilisers to use,” said Deputy Minister Marapira.
Given the mechanised nature of his farming business, he said he only hires skilled manpower to operate the machinery.
Although he has a supervisor, he assumes management of the farm as well.
“I’ve invested more than $1 million on this farm and the returns have come three-fold. Farming is a business which calls for total commitment and not lip service,” said Deputy Minister Marapira.
The father of five who is married to Zion Christian Church Bishop Dr Nehemiah Mutendi’s daughter, Sibusisiwe, dedicates his farming success to President Mugabe.
“I dedicate my success to President Mugabe who prioritised land re-distribution which has seen many indigenous people being allocated land. I’m also a beneficiary of the land re-distribution programme and want to repay such a selfless gesture by feeding the nation. If all beneficiaries utilise land efficiently, there’s no reason why the nation should keep importing maize. The potential for the country to retain its status of being the food basket of Africa is high,” said Deputy Minister Marapira.
“My late father was a renowned farmer and I’ve followed in his footsteps. Despite having worked as an accountant in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Australia, farming has always been my passion from the time we were growing up.”
Despite having a busy schedule juggling his government roles, being a farmer, legislator and a family man, the deputy minister said he has managed to strike a balance.
“I make sure I’m available for my family and I always keep in touch with my constituents through communicating with my advisors who are on the ground and then spend almost every weekend at my farm whenever I’m off duty.”