Chipinge, Manicaland, September 30, 2014: United States Ambassador Bruce Wharton says his country will continue to explore more local initiatives to spur grassroots initiative that enhance growth and says the partnership between the U.S. government and Zimbabwe’s public and private sectors is part of his government efforts to ensure a strong, prosperous Zimbabwe.
“I am impressed by these initiatives which are lovely examples of our effort to help the Zimbabwe meet their food needs…that is what the United States wants. We have every interest in a strong prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe and this project is a good example of what we can do together,” said Ambassador Wharton during a tour of several economic growth and food security initiatives that have received support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) over the past six years.
“Let’s look for other opportunities to do more and build a better future for all of us,” said the U.S. ambassador after witnessing what is now a viable commercial banana plantation in Mutema in Manicaland Province. Local farmers are producing between 60 – 80 tons/hectare, which is exceptional for smallholder farmers and it is expected that most of the Mutema banana farmers (utilizing 0.2 – 0.25 hectares each) will receive approximately $5000 annually from the sale of their bananas to Matanuska.
The farmers told the American diplomat, who was accompanied by USAID Country Director, Melissa Williams, how growing bananas and sugar beans had changed their lives from communal farming to what has become a multi-million commercial farming enterprise. Rose Tsanga, a villager, said they used to grow tomatoes and used to receive $50 per tonne. She said the initiative had seen most widows in the community getting incomes with the business environment changing as a result. “We are able to clothe ourselves, build decent houses, pay school fees, and others are buying stands in the nearby growth points,” she said.
“We are grateful that CABS is coming in to assist after the completion of the ZimAIED project.” said Sukutai Marange, one of the lead farmers.
Zim-AIED, through USAID support, provided tissue-cultured banana seedlings from South Africa, fertilizer and agrochemicals, micro-jet irrigation system, and rehabilitation of two boreholes and in-field piping. All these were purchased using Zim-AIED funds with the requirement that farmers repay the loans from their harvests. In addition, Zim AIED has facilitated market linkages with Matanuska and training in good agricultural practice. The farmers worked with government agricultural extension workers who introduced them to best practices in growing different crops.
Lindiwe Sithole, an orphan from Mugadza village, narrated her “difficult” life before venturing into banana production. She told the U.S. envoy and his delegation that she lost both parents and had difficulties paying for her education. “I used to live with my sister who later got married and i tried to work as a maid in Harare but within three months I was back in Chipinge.” Her brother passed on in 2008 living her to take care of his four children. She joined the banana project in 2011 and says her aspiration is to see these children get a decent education. Through her income from banana production, she can pay for her family’s food, medicine and education.
Some government officials accompanied Ambassador Wharton and his team during the visit. A representative of the Ministry of Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation Development said the irrigation system adopted in Mutema was a model because it reduces the amount of water used and improves the crop quality.
Tapiwanashe Chagwesha, District Agricultural Extension Officer, said through the initial funding the communal farmers became commercial farmers. “Before this funding, the farmers here looked stupid, they did not know what they could do…we have about 600 hectares over the river, and would like Zim AIED to extend its support to those people.”
USAID support to economic growth activities comes from the Feed the Future program, a global food security initiative launched by President Obama in 2010. Under the Feed the Future initiative, USAID partners with the private sector and smallholder farmers on communal lands to help raise their productivity and incomes, reduce poverty and increase food security. The U.S. agency works primarily through contractors that hire mostly Zimbabwean experts to implement these projects in the field. Among them are Zim-AIED, a consortium of Fintrac, IRD, CARE, and CLUSA and works with over 130,000 smallholder farmers across Zimbabwe.