‘Knowledge gaps in Zim’s agriculture of serious concern’

By Tafadzwa  Muranganwa.

Trust Chikowore is a market gardener in Chinamhora just a  few kilometers outside Harare and has been supplying fresh vegetables to  the  city for over 20 years now enabling him to fend off for his family.

In yester-years, he used to rake in a lot from the fresh produce proceeds but the growing number of   farmers who are now into market gardening has brought a fierce competition with some farmers now resorting to pushing their own produce using their vehicles and Trust is now feeling the pinch.

This predicament is aptly captured in a paper by revered agronomist Charles Dhewa, ‘The importance of closing knowledge gaps in African agriculture’ in which he cites that  the majority of farmers are experts in production not in marketing.

According to Dhewa,  most of the times African governments put emphasis on increasing production  without looking at the ‘demand side’.

Efforts to modernize African agriculture continue to focus on the supply-side at the expense of the demand side,” he says.

This apparently true in the Zimbabwean context where such programmes like the Farm Mechanisation Programme and the recently introduced Command  Agriculture  have the sole intention of increasing production without looking at how to also improve expertise along the entire value chain as Dhewa’ s paper alludes.

“There has not been sufficient emphasis on increasing experts specializing on transport and logistics, specialists on small livestock like indigenous poultry or rabbits, nutritionists, food scientists, economists specializing on local markets and laboratory technicians located at local markets to conduct food safety checks like pesticide residue levels, among others,” says the paper.

Most of the time, lack of extension services has been regarded as the main challenge for the growth of agriculture especially in rural area but  Charles Dhewa  admonishes such a ‘belief’.

“There is an unfortunate belief that agricultural extension is the only important form of knowledge in transforming the agriculture industry instead of embracing a holistic approach that identifies knowledge needs and gaps along entire value chains, there is an over-supply of agronomists, extension officers, agricultural engineers and other experts on the supply side,” states Dhewa.

Bright Nezomba is a young small scale banana farmer from Honde Valley   who recently acquired a diploma in agribusiness at a local college.

“With banana farming there has been a lot of improvement of people’s livelihoods here but we have been selling the produce raw, ” explains Nezomba.

He is eyeing value addition of the bananas   for him to realise much which is what   is  also highlighted in the  ‘  The importance of closing knowledge gaps in African agriculture

“ Absence of knowledge pathways translates to lack of capacity to give commodities their true value in the market.

“As a result, most farmers lose out by taking commodities to distant markets when local markets could give them more value,” points out   the paper.

Another take away in agronomist Dhewa ’s paper is the advice on government agricultural economists who tend to confine most of their work in offices without being on the ground to collate accurate information.

“Instead of locating themselves on the market, government agricultural economists prefer to be armchair experts generating budgets at head office with no accurate contextual input from the ground.

“If they were located at agricultural markets, agricultural economists would be able to do market-oriented budgeting as opposed to focusing on production-oriented budgeting,”.

One of the major talking points in improving Zimbabwe’s agriculture has been the building of  proper market infrastructure  as currently the  country has few with the largest being Mbare, Musika which is in a state of dilapidation and in the paper Dhewa points that the designing of markets should be organised.

“Designing of market infrastructure should be informed by commodity experts who know how much space should be allocated to fruits like oranges, tubers like potatoes and vegetables like pepper as well as proper handling practices in different markets.

“If agricultural markets are organized in ways that reflect different forms of expertise and knowledge, several value chains will create more meaningful employment and contribute immensely to wealth creation, poverty reduction and economic growth,” adds Dhewa.

Apart from climate change and the worsening economic crisis, the country’s agriculture system   has not been viable owing to lack of requisite expertise in different   sectors hence the low productivity and a host of other challenges.