The future of agriculture in Zimbabwe: science of common sense

Taruvinga L. Magwiroto

According to estimates by the World Food Programme, 5.5 million Zimbabweans will need food aid this year. This is a result of drought and related weather calamities. But in large measure, this is an indictment of our agriculture system. From a food and nutrition security, we have stagnated, nay, degenerated since the land reform programme. Those with pieces of land but not using the land for farming have to hang their heads in shame. As a country, we have not been productive as far as food production is concerned. It’s the science of common sense!

For starters, to those who don’t know, farming is for people who are willing to put in the hours. It is a 24 hour slog, and not for lazy-bones. No amount of excuses will detract from the fact that we have not been growing food in large enough quantities. A number of reasons come to mind.

There is no doubt that there is drudgery in farming, especially in the absence of machinery. Everyone who was raised in Zimbabwe’s rural areas will have a variation of the story of waking up at 4 o’clock to yoke the span of oxen for two solid hours of ploughing before trudging 10 kilometres to school, under a grey drizzle. Everyone who has memory of that will not fancy returning to the land again, at least not in the same circumstances. It is definitely important to invest in farm machinery. In the absence of a tractor, a pair of sturdy oxen is still the farmer’s best friend!

It is also critical that each household possess at least two strong oxen, trained for the plough. Like all capital equipment, these animals need to be looked after very well. One of my earliest memories as a college student was to get a visit from a neighbour whose ox was acting up. The signs are typical: two round trips with the plough and the ox falls to his knees, tongue lolling out, froth on mouth, dry faeces, “kufufutirwa”, not chewing the cud. Even in my sleep I recognise the signs of acute gall sickness. It’s the stuff of legend, the kind of things every farmer should be aware of, especially in the rain season. Take heed to dip your animals, but most importantly keep an eye out, and do keep a bottle of oxytetracycline ready! That’s the science of common of sense.

Then farmers, real farmers know that farming is seasonal, and every season comes in its own time. Each season comes along same time each year, like clockwork, with minor variation. Each farmer should intimately know the nuances and vicissitudes of his or her land. The lowlands where the water tends to be infested with liver-flukes; the patch where lantana camara is poisonous; the valley where Umkauzaan lurks in the dry season; the season when 3-day stiff-sickness strikes. We no longer have specialist farmers, the type that can send a rookie technician back to the office red with embarrassment! We need to start knowing our farming. Take the time to study your land, your animals and your farming literature. Invest in knowledge: you will not improve if you do not learn. It’s the science of common sense!  

In conclusion, put in the shift. Love the land, or else give it up. It’s not cool to hoard land in a starving country. Let the people with farming passion and ability rise up in Zimbabwe. The people who succeeded off the land did not do so by magic or by being “clever”: they worked the land first. It is the science of common sense!

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