Due to a combination of factors that include poor output markets, low liquidity among smallholder farmers and lack of affordable credit to finance seasonal production costs (including equipment operation, maintenance and repair costs), smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe have not been able to access affordable inputs to increase their production. In addition to this, the economic meltdown witnessed in Zimbabwe in the past decade, saw many smallholder irrigation schemes significantly reduce their operational capacity or grind to a halt due to lack of maintenance. FAO supported smallholder farmers in the region by introducing a programme that improved banana cultivars, organized farmers into a group for marketing and linked farmers to Matanuska, a leading private banana export company. This programme was implemented from 2005 – 2012 through various projects funded by the European Union, Sweden, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Republic of South Africa.
The rapid 800-meter drop in altitude between Mutare and the Mupangwa irrigation scheme in the Honde valley may not be easy on the ears but the breath-taking view as you go down the mutarazi escarpment certainly makes up for the ear discomfort. Tacked between the Eastern Highlands mountain range and Mount Inyangani in Zimbabwe, the thriving banana plantations provide an important food and income source for the smallholder families.
“It is really amazing to see how smallholder farmers in Mupangwa have taken up their own livelihoods by improving banana farming – top class bananas with high export value. While FAO, the Government and others have been major partners, it is impressive to see that they are now self-reliant”, said Mr Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director General for Africa – as he recently visited the smallholder farmers in Mutasa.
The scheme spans through 32 hectares and is largely under gravity fed sprinkler irrigation system. It has 24 members, each with a plot holding of between 1-2 hectares. FAO supported the community by rehabilitating the physical irrigation infrastructure as well as the access road. This has assisted with movement of inputs such as fertilizers and planting material to the farms, as well as facilitated easy transportation of produce to the markets.
Expanding through knowledge sharing
FAO support for the smallholder farmers was prompted by the fact that, despite the valley being blessed with abundant water resources, the banana yield was very low. The programme introduced improved banana cultivars, organized farmers into a group for marketing and linked farmers to Matanuska, a leading private banana export company.
“Since the new varieties were introduced, we have learned a lot. But we did no just keep this knowledge to ourselves. As you come down the valley you can now see that this is no longer Honde valley but banana valley”, said Mr. B. Nezomba the Chairperson for Mupangwa Irrigation Scheme.
Through the skills transfer component of the programme, the schemes members have shared what they learned from the programme with others. “Everyone is now planting bananas the same way that we do at Mupangwa – we were the first to do it this way and others have copied this good practice taught to us”, he added.
In 2012, the volume of worlds gross banana exports reached a record high of 16.5 million tonnes. Africa’s exports, which accounted for 3.9 percent of this figure, had also grown by 2.4 percent between 2010 and 2012 with exports reaching 649 000 tonnes. The Honde valley may be nowhere near the world’s major players for now, but with plans to expand their production, improve their storage facilities and upgrade their irrigation equipment, they indeed do have cause to be hopeful.
Youth too have a role to play
“Such partnerships are indeed very encouraging. FAO is all about facilitating such partnerships so that communities across Africa - as we have seen at Mupangwa - can have real livelihoods in agriculture, fisheries, livestock and forest products. It was impressive to see young men leading the group and this is testimony of the fact that the youth can play an important role in agriculture”, Tijani said.
More than half of the African population is under 25 years old - making it the youngest region in the world. Approximately 11 million young Africans are currently estimated to join the labour market every year. Creating decent employment opportunities for this young labour force – in a transformed, dynamic and vibrant agricultural sector - is crucial if Africa is to reap this demographic dividend.
FAO will continue to be a major partner in replicating such projects across Africa so that the youth can be involved in productive livelihoods. “It is part of the process in which we are working with African Governments, African Union, farmer organizations, civil society, the private sector, donors and others to end hunger by 2025”, Mr Tijani concluded.
This programme was implemented from 2005 – 2012 through various projects funded by the European Union, Sweden, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Republic of South Africa. Other elements of the programme also supported smallholder tea and coffee production.