Everyone knows that Zimbabwe is an agro-based nation. Agriculture and farming have been core economic activity in this nation since independence and most of our people are connected somehow to peasant farming at their rural areas, and a few fortunate ones at commercial level.
Other industries depend on the agricultural output for their own existence and flourishing, as it produces the raw material they need to manufacture and retail. More young people are gravitating towards this sector; it is not regarded as a “dirty and muddy business” anymore, but one that brings the pride of being able to feed oneself and one’s community.
At the height of our economic prosperity, agriculture was one of the pillars that contributed to our balance of payments in a notable way — Zimbabwe exported quality grain, meat, tea, coffee, fruit and vegetables; as well as tobacco and flowers!
The numbers speak, agriculture can easily contribute 20 percent of gross domestic product and 40 percent of foreign currency earnings.
Land is a finite resource so we cannot all have it, or in the same measure. That does not bar the participation of an ordinary Zimbabwean in a sector that ensures national food security, generates foreign currency and creates employment opportunities for many — both skilled and unskilled.
Unconfirmed reports by analysts indicate that the agriculture sector will grow fastest in 2018 ahead of mining, tourism we wrote on last week, (financial) services and manufacturing.
Small businesses must aim to participate in the value chain as well. Some agricultural activity does not require much land. A simple example is rabbit rearing, or small-scale market gardening/horticulture that can literally be done in one’s backyard. Other activities like bee-keeping and small livestock rearing can be done in a rural homestead quite easily.
Markets are key for agriculture and this is one sector where domestic consumption matters. Presently there is a great awareness of and inclination towards healthy lifestyle and diet is a crucial part of it. I attended a rabbit rearing training late last year where one of the highlights was the fact that rabbit is much healthier than most meat, and the demand for it locally is far greater.
With very little space and in initial investment of less than a few thousand dollars, one can get into a business that has clear buyers.
Horticulture is known to be a winner particularly with export potential and ready off-takers in foreign markets such as the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Poland and South Africa for flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Local retailers are now quite flexible in receiving produce from small players — all it takes is bringing a decent sample, and as long as you provide good quality, fair pricing and are consistent in delivery you will do well. In the same circles I met sole traders and families that are in apiculture, again on a small scale, in their rural homestead.
They provide fine quality honey to local stores and sell to individuals too. Business is going great because honey is used as a substitute for sugar by the more health conscious. Conversations with apiculture associations revealed that Zimbabwean honey has a unique signature taste that makes it a winner abroad.
Finally, I was fascinated to learn from a social media colleague that Boer goats are big business. He breeds and rears them before selling them off at a tidy sum locally and abroad. His entire enterprise is at his local village plot. I am a big believer in the proof of concept/prototyping approach. Anyone who had been able to go through the full circle of production through to selling at small-scale inevitably does great things on much larger land.
Agriculture is without a doubt the most supported sector in the country both by Government and civil society programmes. For one who has proven themselves at a small-scale it should be relatively easy to secure funding for scaling up.
This is how one differentiates themselves from every other fellow with a greenfield project. Partnering or working in groups can also help strengthen the case when seeking support.
Many manufacturing companies are realising the value of out-grower schemes and this arrangement can be mutually beneficial when executed properly.
The prospective farmer must take care of the other softer issues of running the business — quality control is a huge factor, you can end up stuck with produce or livestock that you cannot find a home for because you were not careful about the quality buyers want.
Quality direct speaks to pricing, and export markets are especially sensitive to standards. A properly run small scale farming enterprise can generate enough to sustain one’s livelihood.
It is thus important to manage costs well and engage the best people to ensure that it is profitable. Volumes matters in feeding into the bottom line. The quality of staff, particularly management, will directly impact the output in a farming initiative. You cannot afford to scrimp on technical skills and experience, invest in both, and also build capacity of the low level labourers through training. Put simply, run a tight ship.
The final opportunity lies in value addition. This rhetoric has been emphasized in many platforms but action at scale is lacking. Perhaps others who are not primary producers may do better at this if they choose to invest in appropriate technologies and equipment then specialise. I give kudos to those start-ups and students that I have met exhibiting their local fruit jam, or dried vegetable machine, at expos and innovation competitions.
We need more of them to emerge with novel ways of improving the agricultural processes and engineering, and even more to implement methods for unlocking value of produce so that the nation makes more than it sends out. Other industries can directly benefit through availing inputs for agriculture — seed, fertiliser, pesticides, equipment, packaging, storage facilities, and distribution mechanisms.
Even digital innovators now have a role in agriculture through providing real time information and support services for farmers, in the form of crop information, weather reports, planting and rearing advice, and access to markets through online platforms that inform demand, prices, and trends. There is room for everyone in the agriculture value chain, small business must go with the flow and position themselves appropriately, there is room in places where older companies left gaps.
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