THE Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Dr Anxious Masuka was the only minister warmly welcomed by politicians from across the political divide when he was appointed to replace Perrence Shiri who succumbed to covid-19.ZANU PF and opposition MPs last year in October showed rare form of unity in their appreciation of how newly appointed Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka responded to their questions from the backbenchers in Parliament.This was a new direction in the ministry which is key to producing country.The path to Zimbabwe regaining its breadbasket status in the Southern Africa Development Community region has been paved by this year’s bumper harvest and a deliberate effort by Government to invest heavily in the agricultural sector. Farmers across the country are smiling all the way to the bank as they reap the rewards of a bountiful season but the gains made this year can easily be undone by one season of poor rains and lack of setting priorities right as was the case over the years hence the need to maintain vigilance by continuously climate-proofing agriculture.
In this regard, the construction of dams and procurement of irrigation infrastructure to capacitate farmers and ensure a better harvest next season is what government must prioritise considering Minister Masuka was recently qouted referring on the national dam strategy in light of farmers owing over 1,9 billion dollars to ZINWA for water. Agriculture is Zimbabwe’s economic backbone and years of successive droughts have conspired to curtail output, crippling efforts to revive the economy. It is however a fact that Zimbabwe’s historic land reform programme, which has empowered previously disadvantaged landless blacks, was the country’s economic downturn directly linked to the displacement of roughly 4,500 white commercial farmers from their properties at the turn of the millennium. This argument is true in every sense even when you take into account the fact that the bulk of Zimbabwe’s cereal output comes from communal farmers who constitute the main suppliers of maize, sorghum, millet, tobacco and soya bean to the Grain Marketing Board and tobacco auction floors.
For instance, in the just ended season, communal farmers contributed 36 percent of cereal yields.Thumbs up to them but Zimbabwe ceased being a breadbasket of the region reduced to being merely a basket because of such acts.
An exponential growth in the number of commercial farmers thanks to the land reforms and a capacitation of communal farmers through various input schemes will revolutionise the sector and ensure better harvests going forward.Good things are encouraged when they happen nevertheless lets call a spade a spade where the land reform was chaotic even though we Zimbabwean majority deserved the land.
Already, this season Zimbabwe expects to harvest 2,7 million tonnes of maize, the highest yield in 20 years with cereals recording a surplus of more than 820 000 tonnes (highest since 2000/01 season). Tobacco output is expected to increase by eight percent from 184 042 tonnes produced last year to 200 245 tonnes.
This is largely down to good rains and better planning by authorities who timeously provided inputs and other support mechanisms to farmers.
According to the Second Round Crop and Livestock Assessment report released last month, cereal production is estimated at 3 075 538 tonnes against a national requirement of 1 797 435 tonnes for human consumption and 450 000 tonnes for livestock.
Estimated maize production stands at 2 717 171 tonnes, a significant rise from the 907 628 tonnes produced in the 2019/20 season.
While the 2020/21 season was a good one compared to last year, rains ended prematurely for almost all of the country’s districts and some southern and central districts experienced wet spells in December and January, complicating matters as leaching stunted the growth of crops. This shows that even in times of good rains, climate change still wreaks havoc hence the need to climate proof agriculture through adoption of the latest technologies.
The Pfumvudza/Intwasa scheme rolled out throughout the country during the just ended season contributed immensely to increased yields. We therefore commend farmers, both commercial and communal, for their hard work and determination which has seen the country achieve food security. Various Government departments which provided support to farmers also deserve praise.
They include those who ensured that inputs were availed on time, the agricultural extension officers, banks who provided capital and other private sector partners who contributed funding. We are also glad that planning has already commenced for the next season with Government accelerating the roll out of dam and irrigation infrastructure in various parts of the country.
Work has begun on clearing nearly 13 000 hectares of land near newly-completed dams countrywide to make way for the establishment of expansive irrigation schemes in a move meant to climate-proof agriculture and guarantee national food security. Government is also finalising irrigation masterplans for several dams, which will direct the cropping models to be executed under the irrigation schemes.
Over 10 000 hectares of land adjacent to the Gwayi Shangani Dam in Matabeleland North, which is nearing completion, is being cleared to make way for an extensive irrigation scheme, while over 2 250 hectares of land near the recently commissioned Muchekeranwa Dam is also being prepared.
Nearly 1 250 hectares is being cleared in Buhera close to Marovanyati Dam, which was commissioned by President Mnangagwa in December last year.
The President last week gave the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Settlement three seasons to complete the national irrigation programme meant to insulate the country against food insecurity.
He also said if Zimbabwe manages to put between 350 000 and 400 000 hectares under irrigation, there will be no need to import grain, saving the country millions in foreign currency and ensuring that such resources are diverted to other strategic sectors.What is good is good perhaps owing to minister Masuka’s vision for his key ministry considering Members of Parliament from all parties applauded him.
However, during his first appearance in the House of Assembly Wednesday for the weekly ministerial question and answer session, the new minister left MPs from rival parties Zanu PF and MDC nodding in appreciation.
They included hard to please MPs such as Harare East legislator MDC Alliance Vice President Tendai Biti, Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya both from the MDC Alliance, and independent Norton MP Temba Mliswa.
Mliswa, whose antics in parliament never end recently fighting with a female MP from mwonzora camp whi punched Mliswa as he wrestled for her phone to stop filming him, over Wicknell Chivhayo’s case Mliswa argued could not be heard as was subjudice and at one time on suspension for weeks after rebuking Speaker Jacob Mudenda, yet Mliswa described Masuka as different from his other colleagues.
“Haaa uyu anoziva uyu. Kwete zvimwe zvatinosiona. Apa President vakagona. (This one is competent. Unlike his other colleagues. The President sported talent)”
Biti immediately interjected, “True the man is good. Haikona zvaMthuli. Haazive chinhu (This one is good, unlike Mthuli Ncube who knows nothing).
All MPs could be seen giving applause as Masuka eloquently responded to their questions relating to animal husbandry and crop production.Not only that Masuka is a technocrat in agriculture having chaired the Zimbabwe Agricultural show (ZAS), the BuyZim Campaign and lecturer at the UZ in related fields.