Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

Sustainability in agro and farming business

Sustainability in agro and farming business

http://www.theindependent.co.zw/

Thursday, 02 February 2012 15:52

By Rodney Ndamba

THE history of Zimbabwe’s economy cannot be separated from its past 
agricultural successes in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. While today things 
have changed, the future of farming now lies in the presence of sustainable 
agricultural processes.

Of course, farming faces risks of climatic change associated with rising 
temperatures, droughts, siltation and excessive rainfall. For 2012, the UN 
predicted rising food prices in Africa due to poor food production. For 
farmers in Zimbabwe, their ability to produce faces various challenges such 
as finance, electricity supply and modern farming equipment etc.

It is interesting to note that there has been very little local emphasis on 
solar energy use for farming. Many farmers struggle with irrigation during 
load shedding periods where they end up using firewood as is the case with 
tobacco farmers. Reports indicate that 46 000ha of forest were destroyed 
last year for firewood to cure 133 million kgs of tobacco, causing concerns 
for climate and the environment. However, some of these challenges can be 
overcome by considering sustainability approaches.

While the agricultural sector may be faced with energy supply issues like 
many countries in southern Africa, investing in solar technology will soon 
become unavoidable. Interestingly, desert countries like Israel have made 
great success in agriculture by using solar energy and technology. Israel 
relies on solar energy for agriculture and for domestic use.

However, investing in such a project requires capital. This, therefore, 
means that local banks may have to start thinking of offering sustainability 
products in their portfolios. For example, banks could offer loans 
specifically for importing agricultural solar equipment for farmers, for 
which government could provide incentives.

This article, however, explores typical issues on agricultural 
sustainability for local farmers while sharing a few thoughts and views on 
the perspective that farming is a business. Essentially, farming requires 
strategic planning which cannot be done by just the farm owner alone. A 
farmer has to consider his workers who are directly involved in production. 
Furthermore, suppliers, customers, agricultural experts, weather experts, 
regulators and financiers are essential for a good and successful farming 
business. Farmers have to consider engaging key stakeholders frequently, 
whether through an association or individually.

Typical modern farmers think of technology, best practices and sustainable 
agriculture. For many farmers, it has been hard for them to notice that 
agricultural sustainability is certainly becoming a barrier in many foreign 
markets. In some markets they now require information on how the soil from 
which the produce are grown is managed.

Further, some consider the working conditions of the farm workers. A typical 
example is in how Kenya’s and South America’s farmers have been trying to 
get entry for their produce into the European Union markets.  Some countries 
actually demand that agricultural products entering their markets be 
ISO14001 certified. ISO14001 relates to environmental management systems.

However, agricultural sustainability requires farmers to consider their 
impact on economic, ecological (environment), and social needs. The 
evolution of sustainability thinking in agriculture has seen farmers 
considering and competing on best practices. Some farmers consider how they 
impact on the environment, society, stakeholders and the economy in general. 
Certainly, there is a great deal in a farmer engaging stakeholders. For 
example, engaging with workers helps maintain good working relations that 
provide motivation and a shared farming vision.

A well-motivated workforce through incentives, good working conditions and 
moral support has potential for good farming output. Some good farmers 
consider profit-sharing the same way as some successful companies do. 
Equally, it is important to engage communities around farming areas as they 
provide additional labour where necessary. They provide an opportunity for 
understanding how farming activities are impacting on them and the 
environment.

Incidents of poor stakeholder engagement by farmers can be noticed during 
marketing seasons when price wars emerge. It is noticeable that some farmers 
overlook the importance of customers, who in turn give indications of 
quality and the kind of produce expected and how much they will be able to 
pay in the following season. With this in mind, a farmer is able to control 
costs in order to meet market needs. Good farmers should meet both primary 
and secondary stakeholders at least twice or more a year for ideas, 
indications and guidance. The process of stakeholder engagement is an 
ongoing process which helps create an agricultural value chain system.

The concept of sustainability in agriculture requires farmers to consider 
their impact on economic, environmental and social issues. Farming 
activities require management of negative environmental impacts to avoid 
soil erosion and siltation, which has potential impact on yields. Respect 
for and good management of biodiversity have the potential to increase 
yields. For instance, good pollination requires a diverse array of insects. 
Some farmers have been able to compete and be profitable by embarking on 
organic farming, to which they attribute low cost of inputs. In developed 
markets, organic products are becoming a favourite because of health 
considerations.

Certainly, the future competitiveness of agro and farming activities in 
Zimbabwe holds so much for farming communities. Sustainability practices are 
certainly becoming the norm in many foreign markets. Therefore, farmers will 
need to consider best practice and impact on economic, environmental and 
social issues.

Their ability to consider processes such as water and solar harvesting will 
be fundamental to reducing impact on climate. While such investments may 
have initial capital outlays, there are long-term savings, along with 
sustainable profitability. In good farming countries, farmers receive 
incentives for investing time and resources in conservation management. 
Therefore, future farming activities in Zimbabwe may need to consider 
sustainability practices in order to make a strong business case for 
agriculture.

Rodney Ndamba is an ACCA member and Vice Chair of the ACCA Zimbabwe 
Executive Network Panel. He can be contacted on: Ndamba.ro@accamail.com or 
cenac@mail.com Views expressed in this article are those of the writer and 
not of ACCA.

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