Jeremiah Matambu, a Zimbabwean Agriculture expert based in United Arab Emirates (UAE) gave an indepth interview to this publication as he opined how the country can be restored back to its lost bread basket of Africa status.
Matambu holds a Diploma in Forestry from the Zimbabwe College of Forestry, BSc Degree in Agriculture Crop Science and Horticultural Science from the University of Fort Hare, South Africa coupled with other professional courses in Occupational Health and Safety, Food safety and Quality Control.
Currently he is a Quality Control Coordinator for Global Farms UAE.
Matambu reveals that, “I helped the Global Farms UAE in achieving and maintaining Global GAP Standards, ISO 22000, SMERTA for the company and its clients”.
I would advise the government to seriously consider exporting to the UAE markets.
There is a higher demand for all fruits and vegetables.Matambu
We need to properly train our farmers on the requirements for export standards eg. Rainforest, Global Gap, BRC, ISO 22000, USDA Organic standard, Animal Welfare, FSSC, Forestry Stewardship Council.
All those are voluntary standards that farmers can be trained so that we can export our crops and fetch higher prices.
Farmers need to be organised in small groups and be supported by the government.
“Zimbabwe has so much potential and we have a lot of low hanging fruits that we can harvest for us to be self-sustaining, and in return benefit our communal farmers and other farming sectors in general.
Zimbabwe has had great policies before but the lack of political will created a gap where some of the policies were now abused by corrupt politicians and government officials”, said Matambu.
One of the issues that I would suggest on a broader spectrum is the coming up of the right policies coupled with proper implementation.
Some of the best policies are Land reform programme, Operation Zadza Matura and of lately Command Agriculture revealed the Agriculturalist.
“Those policies are very noble in my own opinion; however, they lack proper implementation”, Matambu went on to say.
Matambu said that, Government of Zimbabwe should implement the issue of subsidies for all agriculture inputs such as fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, tractors and any mechanised equipment so that farmers can afford them.
“This will help some farmers who may not be on government programmes to farm cheaply and in turn increase production”, he went on to say.
Farmers need training or refresher courses so that they learn on new agriculture practices and systems and as well cope with current changes in climate, market changes, new drought resistant varieties and use of information technologies in agriculture.
The world is revolving, and information should always be on farmers’ fingertips and they must also be able to retrieve it at an instant.
“I believe there is urgent need for stakeholders in agriculture to meet, discuss and map a way forward for a conducive environment for farmers to thrive.
The discussion should be inclusive of everyone in the agriculture industry and should take a participatory approach rather than a command one”, Matambu added on.
Matambu beamoned lack of implementation to somehow appealing agricultural policies.
Agriculture seems to be failing to return to its former glory because of poor implementation of policies and abuse of resources for political gain, Matambu added on.
“There are some policies which I believe are retrogressive, such example is Timba-ugute”, he said.
Generally, in rural areas there are women and old people who cannot dig holes for meaningful subsistence farming, Matambu explained.
The government should incorporate new technologies in agriculture.
“I am not against timba-ugute itself, but the methodology.
We are in the generation were innovation and improvements to way of handling business is rife.
Our universities should be innovation hubs where they design small scale machineries that can be used to dig such holes”, remarked the Agriculturalist.
Through that way, we can intensify and use smaller land to produce more he went on to say.
Matambu highlighted the need for proper vetting for people who are serious into farming and well deserving farmers to be prioritised for resource allocation devoid from political affiliation.
“We have farmers who have been sending produce to GMB since inception of the land reform.
Those farmers should be prioritised and be given all the resources to produce more.
In return those farmers should be able to pay back, and it becomes a revolving fund were they start small and increase.
These policies should be given life span, where after a prescribed period evaluation to the successes and failures are made and ways to improve are tabled”, Matambu suggested.
Research, implementation and evaluation of these processes should be done by expertise in the field such as Agronomist, Extension Workers, Farmer Organisations, Banks, NGOs, Seed and Fertilizers houses.
They should come up with a document that will be used as a blue print to advise the government and implemention there of should be done, he put it on.
Matambu marked that, “with the current negative climatic changes, there is need to improve and make use of sustainable agriculture models.
These models can help us to adapt to the changes and our people can benefit.
Such models include the use of Integrated Pest Management where you limit or reduce the use of chemicals but rather make use of natural biological enemies to pest.
Most organisations in UAE make use of natural enemies in controlling pest.
This reduces cost of production and ultimately your product get higher market price since they have less or no chemical residuals in them.
The other common example is the use of bumbles bees for pollination in green houses.
This will increase production and get higher volume per unity area.
Intensive production is another sustainable way of agriculture practice.
The land is finite, and population is increasing”.
The solution to reduced farming land can be through the introducation of vertical farming in urban centres where those disused whare-houses can be used for indoor vertical farming, he added on.
“This might seem far fechted now but in the 20-30 years to come, the topic will become a reality.
We need to intensify production on smaller areas and reduce demand for land.
That will reduce even degradation of land.
One example is Singapore, they do not have farming land and they import almost every food they consume.
To curb food import, the Singaporean government has introduced roof top farming, on top of city buildings and they are getting good results”, he explains.
Matambu does not believe in multi-national companies as a solution to the dwindling agriculture fortunes the country is currenty facing.
He has this to say, “I have strong negative opinion on the issue of believing that multi- national companies can help improve the agriculture in Zimbabwe or the economy in general.
We the people of Zimbabwe need to have a shift in mindset of believing that multinationals can improve the economy
They are predatory, they are there to make profits and go back whenever they feel the environment is no longer conducive or any other reason”.
He however is of the opinion that, with good dedicated leadership in the industry and right political will coupled with expertise, resources and funding the country can return to its past farming glory.
The country is capable to own its means of production, produce and export with easy.
Matambu gave example of Beitbridge Shashe Irrigation scheme which started exporting citrus to Europe with the help of some NGOs.
“We have other individuals exporting peas to France through “tuminda program” with Mr C Mwale as the Compliant Expert.
These are small scale farmers coming together to farm and produce.
What you only need to do is to meet the required standard for export and become Global Gap certified.
It needs coordinated approach. There is no product grown locally which cannot be exported”, he said.
Matambu strongly suggested the use of environmentally sustainable alternatives to pesticides and chemicals for farmers.
“There are many in the market that you can find, examples include use of Fly traps, pheromones, practicing crop rotation, use of neem oils, use of marigold plant, disease resistant varieties, bumble bees, and use of beneficial insects such swirskii, spidex, lady birds and balancing your nutrient application to your plants can reduce diseases as well”, he said.
The country has been doing specific agriculture according to regions.
“Zimbabwe has regions 1-5 and there has been specific agriculture in those areas.
However, I believe there is need to readjust based on research and current rainfall patterns on the regions again since there has been changes in weather patterns.
The adjustments should be based on research and have specific agriculture on those areas”, he said.
Matambu believes in intensive production, smaller areas, good varieties, harness water and grow according to the areas for better returns.
“Research is also important in agriculture. Proper funding for research is crucial if we want to improve our agriculture”, he emphasised on the need of agricultural research and funding thereof .
Zimbabwe is blessed with good weather throughout the year where we have winter and summer and we can mange to have at least 3 seasons.
In UAE they can only have one agriculture season from Sept-October to May.
During those times temperatures can be as high as 42 degrees and relative humidity will be very low sometime below 38% with average of 42%, there is no rain enough for agriculture.
The water is salty and that affects PH, nutrient uptake, EC, and other imbalances.
However, with such conditions were the cost of production becomes very high, UAE has still managed to grow some crops such as wheat, corn, strawberries, tomatoes, figs and of interest is the production of grapes which is generally temperate climate fruits.
“Zimbabwe has no excuse, as it can invest in those harsh regions, there is need to invest and grow crops that suit those conditions.
We should have serious investments through the government entities such as ARDA and COTTCO.
They can grow maize and cotton, sugar, lucerne on a large scale”, he said.
China will be importing citrus fruits from Zimbabwe on a large scale.
Matambu said, “On a short to medium term, it is a noble idea to export fresh produce.
However, there is a business aspect that people might need to understand.
Some fresh Class A citrus fruits my have a higher price to the farmer on the market as compared to send them for processing. So exporting fresh is the immediate low hanging fruits.
Bear in mind those going for further processing are low grade which cannot meet the export standards hence they fetch a lower price.
What I believe should be done is to adopt a model whereby we have small scale farmers clustered in one area.
We then have one grading and packing area, were farmers send their produce to the packing grade.
Fruits are graded as per farmer.
Stored according to the standard on one localised and central packing facility.
We can then have a processing plant on that area where all the un-exported fruit becomes the raw materials for, jam manufacturing, fruits juice, food additives, flavours and canninng.
That way we reduce the cost of production and empower our farmers. These models have been used in most parts of the world.
You can have a localised canning in Birchenough for tomatoes.
You can have a centralised nursery where all farmers should buy from the nursery, and they become share holders from the nursery.
This will ultimately reduce the cost of production hence the lower cost to the market.”
So as to eradicate poverty, Matambu suggested, “Investment in research, innovation, as well as long term capital finance for farmers with low interest rates for 5-20 years depending on projects.
Our land should be bankable for serious finance organisation to consider extending loans to farmers.
For feedback and Agriculture consultancy do not hesitate to consult Jeremiah Matambu on email@example.com