Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Anxious Masuka fired the head of an Agricultural Rural Development Authority (Arda)-run agriculture scheme in Lupane on the spot and said the parastatal’s operations are not in sync with the Second Republic’s thrust of transforming the country’s economy through agriculture.
Dr Masuka was also riled by the fact that Government has had to write off a sorghum crop at the Bulawayo Kraal Irrigation Scheme in Binga as a result of “remote management”, leading to a wastage of resources.
He breathed fire during a tour of the Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Project and the Bulawayo Kraal Irrigation Scheme on Friday, where he was accompanied by Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Richard Moyo.
The minister said a lackadaisical approach to work had no place in the Second Republic that was anchored on maximisation of resources and betterment of citizens’ lives through production.
Despite the ineptitude at the irrigation schemes, the country is on the verge of its largest harvest in 37 years with farmers expecting to reap between 2,5 and 2,8 million tonnes of maize and above 360 000 tonnes of traditional small grains following above normal rains that fell countrywide this year.
Dr Masuka was not impressed with the sorghum crop in Lupane and said it was unlikely that a meaningful yield would be realised.
He instructed that it be removed.
The crop was not properly planted leaving a lot of gaps in between, leading the minister to conclude that poor agronomic work was on display.
The Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Project is being revived and benefited from three centre pivots from Government.
Arda is the project manager and works with the local community in planting of crops.
Dr Masuka fired on site, the Bubi-Lupane Irrigation Project manager for alleged incompetence saying the same will befall officials who fail to meet Government’s expectations in the transformation of the agriculture sector.
Chronicle could not establish the official’s name.
“I’m not happy with Arda’s performance, you are still in the past. Arda must wake up to the realities of the Second Republic and the President’s thrust of using agriculture as a vehicle for the attainment of vision 2030,” said Dr Masuka.
He said Government has set minimum requirements for managing Arda irrigation sites.
Dr Masuka said going forward, Government wants Arda managers to be stationed on-site as opposed to visiting the farms.
Dr Anxious Masuka (centre) inspects a failed sorghum crop at Bulawayo Kraal Irrigation Scheme in Binga flanked by Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Richard Moyo (right) and Arda board chairman Mr Ivan Craig on Friday
“When you employ you must pay only a basic survival salary to that scheme manager. It must be a performance-based contract and 75 percent of the annual salary must come from a crop production bonus. The crop production bonus is predetermined. For wheat we want 4,5 to 5 tonnes per hectare they (farm managers) get their two percent on the net. If they are unable to do that then it means they will be a sunset clause in that contract which says the moment they harvest and it not happened (achieving the yield target) it means the contract automatically lapses,” said Dr Masuka.
“So, we don’t deal with this perennial problem of hiring mediocre people that do not want to grow this community. This scheme in the years ahead will be the envy of many districts. It is our intention with Minister Moyo to bring the Presidency here to launch the 200 hectares per district. This will be the first district to attain 200 hectares. We want that wheat to be a classic crop so that we can plan for launch of the 200 hectare per district by the President and I suggest that it takes place here. It has to happen.”
He said Government is moving towards having each district having 200 hectares of crop under irrigation as part of measures to ensure the country has food security.
“Government policy is that Zimbabwe is going to get drier in the decades ahead. So, we must climate proof our agriculture. Our population is increasing and vision 2030 beckons. Therefore, we must prepare and transform agriculture and through it transform rural livelihoods.
That is why the President has indicated that he wants to see 200 hectares per district,” he said.
He said the sorghum crop was a write-off and Arda should bear the cost.
“This crop is unlikely to yield anything due to poor agronomy. So, the intervention is that we convert this immediately into fodder and stop the irrigation. We plan for winter wheat for pivot number one and pivot number two with all the water now going to pivot number three where we have 60 hectares of sugar beans, where we are likely to salvage something if it’s not commercial then it’s for the communities that have already worked and we pay them for their labour and everything through that. You as Arda you will recoup your costs on the next wheat crop without burdening the community. The community’s investment is to make a living out of agriculture and agriculture as a business,” he said.
Dr Masuka said Arda should start preparing for winter wheat farming as it removes the sorghum.
“As you can see the planting itself was done poorly and it is our considered view that at this stage we must prepare better for the next crop. We must admit that we have failed on this crop and we must pledge and commit to do better on the next crop. We will be employing a professional scheme manager who will be assisting in the management of the scheme and we will replicate this,” said Dr Masuka.
At the Bulawayo Kraal, the minister did not mince his words as he read a riot act to the new Arda board and management to up its game and prove its worth.
He said full-time managers must be stationed at Bulawayo Kraal and Bubi-Lupane Irrigation as one of the remedial measures.
“Today we were touring Arda estates in Matabeleland North. We started with Bubi-Lupane and now we are at Bulawayo-Kraal. At both schemes we learnt about how not to farm and clearly the two schemes at this stage are a write-off.
“We are disappointed that resources went down the drain but however, we are pleased that the new Arda board chairman and chief executive are with us to see why we have been talking about Arda needing a transformation. I look forward to this board and management transforming Arda and agriculture as well as the rural landscape in pursuit of the noble vision by the President for an upper and empowered middle-income society by 2030,” said Dr Masuka.
Minister Moyo said the scheme requires a hands-on approach.
He said plans are underway to prepare for planting winter wheat and beans in the next few weeks.
The Bulawayo Kraal project has been failing to produce a successful crop due to a myriad of challenges including recurrent pipe leaks.
The projects seek to create employment for locals and alleviate poverty through transforming the area into an economic hub.
Binga District is traditionally viewed as lagging in terms of development and the irrigation scheme is one of the many projects in the area to show the potential of the district to sustain itself and feed the province.
The scheme will cover 15 000ha and will provide food and nutrition security in the country in the backdrop of climate change and recurrent drought.
Arda entered into partnership with a local investor to develop the 15 000ha piece of land into a food and export crops as well as crocodile farming zone.
Irrigation equipment including three centre pivots and pipes to draw water from Zambezi River are already in place.
Newly-appointed Arda board chairman Mr Ivan Craig said a mammoth task lies ahead of the parastatal and this will include proper planning and having on-the-ground managers. — @nqotshili, @ncubeleon