The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Covid19 virus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and this saw many nations including Zimbabwe go into lockdown mode to try and curb the spread of the virus.
The President of Zimbabwe, H.E. Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a total lockdown for three weeks starting on the 31st of March.
Agriculture was declared an essential service because of its mandate to guarantee household and national food security.
However, during the first week of the lockdown it appeared as though the operational systems on how farmers were to carry out their work were not clearly laid out such that farmers reported that they were facing difficulties to move and conduct their work.
The case of Sakubva farmers whose produce was destroyed by Mutare city’s health department sparked debates on social media, with many wondering how best to balance ensuring food security and nutrition at the same time protecting the general populace from the pandemic.
Zimbabwe’s agricultural industry is characterised by informal markets and in ZFU Executive Director Mr Paul Zakariya’s words, “Coronavirus has just exposed a lot of gaps in our production and marketing systems, as such running our operations as strictly business entities will require a total mindset shift,” he said.
ZFU therefore encourages farmers to affiliate and participate in commodity associations to ensure that they are at the centre stage and in control of the value chains because without order and co-ordination at farmer level it might be difficult to justify concerns.
“Producer or Commodity Associations are platforms that can then be used to gather data around production, post-harvest handling and losses, markets, and everything else to do with profitability or lack thereof.
“Going forward, we would like to promote organized farming and marketing.
1. Farmers should belong to producer associations
2. For marketing purposes, farmers should aggregate their produce, invest in storage, weighing, packaging and transport facilities.
3. Reduce the numbers of people that physically go to the markets.
4. Ensure that the markets are organized and handled professionally.
5. Begin to seriously consider the need to insure their businesses (no matter how small)
6. Embrace ICTs to manage grading, pricing, payments and access to finance.
7. Producers must seek to be formally recognized by registering themselves as formal business entities (in the form of private companies, cooperative companies or societies). This will further strengthen their voices and ease the burden of data collection and credit referencing,” ZFU Executive Director, Mr Paul Zakariya.
Mr Zakariya emphasised that going forward, the lessons learnt from the Covid19 experiences should be effected in farming operations otherwise farmers risk making more loses in future crisis
“It is not wise to only know the correct thing to do and not do it, those small things will determine the difference between profit and loss.
“If farmers can’t aggregate their produce and manage that bit of the chain up to the markets, someone else will continue to do that on their behalf and enjoy real value.
“We now must do things differently and that starts with the correct mindset,” he said.