Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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How farmers can sustain achievements

How farmers can sustain achievements

cattleCharles Dhewa —
What matters is the ability to sustain good achievements to the point of lifting fellow farmers out of poverty.

As rainfall-driven farming gets underway in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, one of the questions frequently asked by farmers is: Which combination of crops can I grow for a quick profit? While there isno easy answer to such a question, the question indicates that farmers are motivated more by money and playing it safe than by impacting the overall agricultural sector.

They are not really interested in setting ambitious and big agricultural goals. Yet, serious agriculture, in a changing climate, is no longer about mediocre goals which ultimately result in mediocre outcomes.

An important part of protecting gains and sustaining last seasons’ achievements is experimenting with diverse crops and farming systems while keeping expenses under control. How many farmers are committed to doing so this farming season?

Agriculture now requires marathon runners
A short-term gains mindset has sadly led to many farmers failing to develop a strong ability to sustain their good performance for more than three seasons. In fact, very few farmers can perform consistently high for three consecutive years.

If a significant proportion of farmers were able to sustain their initial success, hunger will not continue to stalk many communities including high potential areas like Mutasa District which are blessed with elements of natural farming regions one, two and three.

Agriculture now requires the equivalent of marathon runners who can improve as the competition hots up and maintain such improvements over time.

Almost every farmer is able to produce crops. What matters is the ability to sustain good achievements to the point of lifting fellow farmers out of poverty. Unfortunately, implementing and sustaining high levels of production remains a big challenge for the majority of farmers.

eMKambo recently conducted a small survey among farmers in the Midlands Province of Gokwe North to tease out random insights on what prevents farmers from sustaining their best achievements. The results were quite instructive.

Farmers who maintain their high achievements often defy climate change. They harvest something irrespective of a drought which often decimates other farmers’ crops.

These farmers make their farming processes more efficient by focusing on what they are good at and eliminating models around which they are not skilled. They do not try to be jack of all trades and masters of none.

On the other hand, others succeed through embracing radical change. “Instead of waiting for drought to kill half of my 30 herd of cattle, I have made it a tradition to sell some in order to raise money for other farming activities that generate income in the short to medium term,” said Mr Simon Chivarange from Svibe Ward in Gokwe North.

According to Simon, he decided to embrace radical change after noticing that in a changing climate, incremental change can be unreliable. His peers who have been on the slow and steady path for decades have not improved their fortunes and are always victims of dry spells.

The power of records
Many farmers like Simon may not be bookkeepers or full blown accountants, but they keep meaningful records that inform their decision making. Some of the intimate farming details are committed to the memory and this functions as practical wisdom which can be articulated upfront before getting into a new farming season.

Such farmers have dealt with difficult issues long enough to a point of becoming aware of the consequences of not keeping records. By reverting back to records and data in their torn note books, the farmers have been able to sustain improvements for several farming seasons.

Records have enabled the farmers to track their performance against specific commodity objectives. The farmers have become convinced that without data it is impossible to track achievements and outcomes in a wide range of agricultural commodities that climate change is compelling them to engage in as part of balancing their survival strategies.

A key feature of farmers who do not keep records is that their performance and improvement patterns are not stable and tend to deter off as seasons progress.

Using records to influence resource allocation
Most farmers in Zimbabwe are no longer just worried about the impact of climate change on their livelihoods. Balancing resource allocation between immediate survival and farming enterprises has become a major headache.

Choosing agricultural commodities to which money, time and other resources can be committed is a difficult task, even for farmers who have gone through formal education and studied agriculture.

An example of a tricky question is: How much should I devote to maize, cattle or sugar beans without reducing the capacity of these commodities to be cash cows?

Records have proven to be a powerful analytical foundation enabling farmers to answer the above question in ways that guide resource allocation. If properly captured, records can reveal how much was spent on maize production last season versus returns.

This will address several wrong assumptions among farmers who continue to produce some crops for romantic reasons when they should be meeting all their needs from agriculture. For a significant number of farmers, data in their records support profitability assessments and resource projections for every agribusiness model.

Data in a changing climate and market insights
If data is to fully influence budgeting and resource allocation, farmers should keep records as a baseline scenario able to reveal each agricultural commodity’s performance track record over the past seasons.

In a changing climate, it is through data and evidence that farmers can be empowered to analyse the performance of each agricultural commodity along the value chain. That influences farmer choices towards reducing commodities that absorb a lot of scarce resources such as water.

In addition, competitive insights from the market have started refining farmers’ decision making more than just relying on instinct. Through reliable data and evidence they are able to determine the right magnitude of agricultural action.

Capturing natural and socio-economic opportunities requires investment in data gathering, analysis and interpretation. That is how amount of rainfall received can be translated into better performance.

In most cases, poor farmer performance results from competitive disadvantage. Changes in competitive dynamics have to be monitored regularly in order to gain meaningful market share. A fundamental goal of smart resource allocation is embedding agility in farming activities so that farmers are able to quickly respond to emergent opportunities.

An important precondition for sustaining good achievements is to deploy resources in ways that make it easier for farmers to free up and re-purpose those resources.

There are numerous cases where farmers have many cattle but cannot see the wisdom of selling some of the cattle to buy other necessary inputs such as feed and seeds for growing other important crops. Sustainability will result from smart decisions around resources.

Charles Dhewa is a proactive knowledge management specialist and chief executive officer of Knowledge Transfer Africa (Pvt) (www.knowledgetransafrica.com) whose flagship eMKambo (www.emkambo.co.zw ) has a presence in more than 20 agricultural markets in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on: [email protected]; Mobile: +263 774 430 309 / 772 137 717/ 712 737 430.

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