While tobacco production has attracted more than 100 000 growers over the past few years, the following trends have been silently underway during the same period:
- Competition has been intensifying between major suppliers of horticulture seed (East West, Charter Seeds, Prime Seeds (now part of Seed Co), National Tested Seeds, Pedi stock and Seed & Water). This competition has resulted in wide choice for informed farmers but confusion for un-informed farmers in terms of what variety to grow and why. The local seed companies have also tightened their relationships with big international companies who remain a major source of parent seed.
- More hybrids are trying to replace Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs) in horticulture. There are now hybrids in onion, tomato, cabbage and peppers. In potatoes, hybrids are in the form of improved varieties like Mondial which are replacing BP1, Amatheist and Jaspar, among others. When growing BP1 a very good farmer can only afford 40 tons per hectare no matter how much fertilizer or any other inputs are applied. On the other hand, farmers growing who plant Mondial are cloaking 65 -80 tons per hectare.
Hybrid cabbage and potato in the market
- The past five years have also witnessed changes in production practices resulting from improved irrigation, better fertilizers and chemicals, among other developments. Planting spaces have changed. Previously farmers would space tomatoes at 2 metres inter row but now it is down to 1.2 metres inter row. In-row spacing has also gone down from 60 cm to 30 cm. Green house technology and drip irrigation technology has also become ubiquitous. Irrigation pumps and pipes are now found almost everywhere. The rain gun has also transformed irrigation, replacing traditional sprinklers. Small engines that run on petrol and diesel are now available in many hard wares with numerous companies now advertising their capacity to drill boreholes. All this means farmers can now draw water from any source any time. This has increased capacity of producers while reducing management/supervision time.
- Horticulture has almost overtaken tobacco in terms of knowledge intensiveness. Tobacco is becoming relatively easy to produce than horticulture because it has a standard approach which is not the case with horticulture crops. Much tobacco production knowledge has been codified and institutionalised into a few rules that farmers can easily master. On the other hand, horticulture production in Chegutu is very different from Macheke because of different locations. Conversely, tobacco is generally grown in same soils, weather conditions and same time of the year while tomatoes can be grown all weather – rainy season; winter & autumn. Practices are also different by area. It takes two to three cycles of producing a particular horticulture crop for a farmer to master horticulture production. One has to go through summer; winter & autumn production cycles to master the requirements of a particular commodity like potato or squash butternut. Production in winter tends to be different from summer. In summer a farmer grapples with diseases and weed control because weeds will be germinating continuously. In winter the farmer has to contend with cold and frost.
- Although hybrids seem to be gaining ground, there is still a market for Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs) whose favourable attributes include taste and size. While hybrid tomatoes can be good for sandwiches, OPVs like Rodate tomatoes will always be part of the market. According to a cross section of consumers, Rodate tomato still produces the best soup. Some hybrid pepper varieties are too big for consumers in the people’s market who prefer small to medium sizes. Consumers don’t want a big pepper size which has to be cut and stored before re-using. There are also areas where hybrids do not grow well. Some very big cabbage varieties are shunned by super markets and customers. While hybrids tend to be topical, low yielding varieties still have their own areas and niches.
- The people’s market now reflects a true natural ecosystem where big players co-exist with small players. Just as there is no country where everyone drives a Mercedes Benz, there is always space for the Mazda 323s, Uno and even motor cycles. The market behaves in the same manner. Some consumers are resisting hybrids. While Mondial potato variety produces extra – large and large potatoes, the people’s market has shown a preference for small potatoes and charts which can be easily heaped into a pile when selling & can be easily measured for cooking. Financial institutions which are funding agriculture production without looking at market dynamics are suffering from non – performing loans as farmers fail to sell commodities leading to failure to pay back loans.
- The chicken (meat and eggs) industry continues to be characterised by three distinct production systems, namely vertically integrated breeding companies; commercial producers; and subsistence producers. All the systems rely on the production of cereal crops, especially maize, soya beans and sunflower. The first two systems are driven by both input and output markets which is why their competitiveness is determined by ability to utilise genotypes that are efficient in converting feed into product. They thus depend on the use of imported improved genetics comprising hybrids that cannot be reproduced locally. Subsistence producers continue to use extensive production system based on indigenous “unimproved” genotypes that rely on foraging and scavenging. Subsistence producers who are mostly smallholder farmers hold a large variation of indigenous chicken genotypes whose production characteristics are largely unknown. Increase in the demand for indigenous chickens is driving efforts to characterise and fully understand indigenous poultry. In spite of their elegance as a reliable food and economic resource, the production of indigenous chickens is not yet structured to enhance their commercialization. There is inadequate knowledge about feeding systems, general health, appropriate housing, and attributes of different strains, determination of their economic value and development of markets.
- The quantity of horticulture commodities continues to exceed demand because there has not been enough effort on clearly understanding the market. Going forward, the domestic market may be left to smallholder farmers in low potential areas who also tend to have a lot of challenges including transport problems. Commercial guys in high potential areas should surely think about export markets and value addition. If a big farmer in enterprise valley is going to produce two hectares of viscous leafy vegetables, shouldn’t we leave leafy vegetables for smallholder guys producing in Chihota and other low potential areas? Farmers are desperate for strategic export market direction.
- International development agencies and NGOs have taken over the role of government departments and farmer unions. An example is the Livelihoods & Food Security Programme (LFSP). The government extension services department (AREX) and farmer unions who should be leading such an initiative have been reduced to passengers and informants. In the history of the world no country has ever moved out of poverty using top-down, big beast solutions like the LFSP. It doesn’t just exacerbate uncoordinated production against a poorly understood market but also dilutes agricultural knowledge and messages in ways that keep communities trapped in poverty.
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