By Wallace Mawire
A Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF) aimed at building a Covid-19 resilient smallholder farming system in Zimbabwe has been launched by the government of Zimbabwe with support from its partners.
According to the Ministry of Land, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement in November 2016 the government of Zimbabwe signed an agreement with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to finance the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalization Programme.
The objective of the programme is to sustainably increase diversified production, productivity, income and improve resilience of households in targeted schemes and sub-catchments, in communal and old resettlement areas in Manicaland, Masvingo, Matabeleland South and Midlands Provinces.
It is reported that farmers in the programme area have not been spared by the COVID 19 pandemic.
According to ministry officials, the lockdown prevented farmers from selling produce, as their usual buyers could not get access to the irrigation schemes, consequently their main sources of income were affected, affecting the smallholders’ capacity to buy inputs for the next agricultural season, as well as to access sufficient and nutritious diets. Also post-harvest losses are reported to have continued to pose a threat to potential incomes and profit margins of the smallholder farmers.
Against this background the government requested funds to mitigate the impacts and constraints brought about by COVID-19 under the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF).
The project aims to promote continued agricultural production, food and nutrition security, market access and resilience against COVID-19 for the targeted group of vulnerable smallholder farmers through provision of high nutrition crop inputs and small livestock, improved access to markets, provision of nutrition education and relevant information to reduce the spread of the pandemic.
It seeks to aiding communities to manage, adapt and ultimately recover through increasing production, productivity and profitability.
According to the Agriculture Extension Services (AGRITEX) Director, the assistance will reach 13,900 households translating to 69500 farmers in the Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland South provinces.
The RPSF will complement the already existing government initiatives aimed at cushioning the farmers against the adverse effects of the pandemic.
It is reported that in the agricultural sector Covid-19 disrupted the input and output markets across all farming sectors with access often constrained by the movement restrictions, most of the farmers especially those with a limited resource base are reported to have had their crop calendar severely affected with their capacity to finance the next production cycle impacted upon.
The RPSF will serve as a stimulus to most smallholder farmers in the SIRP areas.
It is added that as the lead implementing organization for the RPSF, AGRITEX is geared towards ensuring successful implementation, beginning with the winter crop for the irrigating households that will receive crop input packs under the support programme.
“More households will also be supported in the greater scheme areas through drought tolerant crop input packs, small livestock support and post-harvest equipment,” the AGRITEX Director said.
It is added that the RPSF provides a chance to demonstrate what is possible with proper planning, team work and dedication.
“The support from the grant comes at a time when AGRITEX is seized with equipping its frontline staff with motorcycles to enhance mobility and effective coverage of all farmers,” he said.
He also added that they have also started digitalizing their data collection and monitoring systems through providing tablets to each and every extension officer.
“Admittedly the current levels of productivity for most crops for both irrigating and dryland smallholder households are generally low. Over the past year I visited several smallholder irrigation schemes along with other senior managers in the Ministry, SIRP schemes were among visited. During the tour of schemes the general consensus was that the standard of the cropping was not what it ought to be especially in irrigation schemes,” he said.
He added that they also observed poor agronomic management practices at some schemes with production generally not organized and most of the smallholder irrigation schemes evidently not business-oriented.
“The challenge to extension staff and indeed all of us is therefore to ensure that we work to address productivity challenges among our farmers,” he said.
He added that under the RPSF grant they are optimistic that their extension officers and farmers will work hand in glove to ensure that the productivity levels substantially increase.
“In line with the current efforts by the ministry to promote sustainable irrigation models, my department undertakes to ensure that all beneficiaries of input pack support under the RPSF produce in a synchronized and organized manner,” he said.
It is reported that already farmers across the 22 schemes where RPSF will be implemented have shown a commitment to move towards block system of production beginning the coming winter season.
“With synchronized block production in the irrigation schemes accessing output markets and financing will become much easier for our farmers,” the Director said.