There is no doubt in my mind that if Zimbabwe is to regain her food bread basket status, renewed attention has to be given to productivity on the land. Further, transforming rural futures has implications for food security in the urban centres and more importantly, reduces the compulsive need for people to leave rural areas for towns where they swell the numbers of the urban poor.
Stimulating rural development should encompass looking at both the macro-economic policies and farmer-level policies that support small holders on the land.
Stimulate farmer earnings by scrapping taxes on agricultural produce:- As the Finance Minister has done recently with tobacco, scrapping transfer costs (taxes etc) allows the farmer to retain more of their earnings and incentivise production. If the same could be done on maize, dairy etc, that could go a long way into boosting farmers earnings.
Retooling the agricultural service departments:- This could be crucial government intervention. While most people are concerned with extension workers to farmer ratios, this stat1stic is simplistic and of dubious value. Rather, measures should be put in place to ensure quality of service (worker competence, transport etc). This could mean relooking at both the initial training and on-job training needs of field level extension workers.
A 2017 study by Magwiroto & Kaziboni (in print), found that a sample of experienced field level veterinary extension workers had unacceptably low levels of skills and knowledge on tick borne diseases, sample collection and treatment. Further analysis found that both the college environments and job environments did not offer conducive learning opportunities.
It is high time the Zimbabwe government put its money where its mouth is. Agricultural colleges in Zimbabwe need to be re-capacitated, both materially and in human resource terms.
System management:-Management of the whole agricultural knowledge system needs rebooting. The circus surrounding the Livestock Production Department (LPD) comes to mind. From 2008 to 2017, I believe the department changed its institutional HQ more than 5 times. It was constantly moving from being a stand-alone department, to be under AGRITEX, then Vet Services, and back again. Meanwhile field staff were baffled, buffeted, and felt more like unwanted extras in their jobs. That is never ideal.
Building farmers capacity:-Agriculture is and will continue to become a knowledge intensive undertaking. Farmers and entrepreneurs will need more and more skills as their operations become bigger and more complex. Government will have to ensure that the training needs of farmers are diagnosed and design programmes to meet those needs.