“At one point, I took poison as I thought there was nothing else to live for. I’m lucky to be alive today,” said the mother of seven. “I’m grateful that I’m still here and realised that I had to pick up the pieces and be strong for my family,” she added. Sithole had managed to acquire her property through the meagre savings she raised as a tomato communal farmer over the past two decades.
As she embarked on her restoration journey to recover what she had lost, it was evident that tomato farming was no longer viable because the biggest market – Cairns Foods – had scaled down, making the business unprofitable. Her new challenge was to venture into a more viable farming product. As if to answer her prayers, Sithole was introduced to communal banana farming in Mutema village, a project funded by USAID in partnership with Matanuska. “I was given a loan to start banana farming and through this initiative I have managed to fend for my family, rebuild my house and buy new furniture,” she said. In a similar fashion, Nyamadzawo Sithole, 35, of Mugadza village has managed to build her two-roomed house, pay school fees for her four children and bought her first cattle. The tales of these two mothers reflect the narrative of 200 other families eking out a living under the Mutema Irrigation Scheme specialising in communal banana farming.
The families are beneficiaries of a USAID initiative that commenced in 2009. Before this they grew tomatoes, beans, maize and wheat farming, which was no longer viable after the 2000 Cyclone Eline exacerbated by the economic meltdown that wrecked the irrigation schemes.
The project was resuscitated after USAID partnered leading banana producer Matanuska to be a ready market for the smallholder farmers.
The initiative saw the farmers in Mutema Village getting access to a $60,000 loan to resuscite the Mutema Irrigation Scheme where 60 hectares of the 210 ha is now under banana production.
Mutema is one of the best irrigation schemes in Chipinge West as it uses micro-jet irrigation technology, which cost $2,900 per hectare. Matanuska went on to extend the project to Chibuwe and Msikavanhu villages, where some 40ha are under communal banana production.
Chibuwe and Msikavanhu irrigation schemes were established in 1954 and 1997, respectively.
The three projects have a combined 500 participants, with the Mutema scheme recording the highest number of increases.
“The project started with 114 families on half a hectare to 1hectare. But this since increased to 238 as most families realise the viability of the project,” said Agritex supervisor Naume Mayakayaka.
Communal banana production has become popular in Chipinge West constituency, which encompasses these villages owing to its viability.
Mayakayaka said they carried out a survey that indicated that banana production was more viable than tomato and maize production. She said this had led to a mass exodus of communal farmers switching to banana farming.
“We carried out a snap survey of operational and production costs of tomatoes and maize against bananas. It came out that bananas were more viable and that’s why more families continue to switch,” she said.
According to the survey, 1ha of tomatoes yields 15,000 kilograms with the minimum price for a tonne pegged at $50 while 1ha of maize produces 800kgs at a minimum price of $150 per tonne.
This is in striking contrast to bananas, which produce 15 tonnes on under 0,25ha realising $250 per tonne.
However, Mayakayaka said the farmers struggled during the first season as they had to pay back the loans. She said according to the loan agreement, USAID first collected 65 percent of the net income of each of the beneficiaries before it was reduced to 35 percent.
“The first yield was not economical as farmers had not yet grasped the expertise of banana production. The situation was also worsened by the fact that they needed to settle their loans as well as meet water and electricity bills.
“But you can see from our statistics that production has increased from 15T in the first harvest, 16,25T in the second harvest and 17,5T in the third harvest,” she said.
$2,500 per harvest
Another Agritex supervisor Moses Pondo said most of the farmers are getting $2,500 per harvest. “They earn $2,500 per harvest. The farmers can have two harvests in one year, followed by one during the next year,” said Pondo.
USAID subsidiary ZIMAED deputy chief, identified only as Ndoro, said they were impressed with the success of the project and advised the farmers to remain resourceful and steadfast when the organisation pulled out.
“We would like to thank the farmers for doing a great job. They are the ones who have made this project a success. We never had any problems with farmers failing to repay loans and I’m proud to say 65 percent have already cleared their loans,” he said.
Ndoro urged the farmers to continue exhibiting good business practices and urged Matanuska to continue to provide a market for them. Johannes Makurumidze, the company’s project coordinator, said his company would continue to work with the smallholders.
“Our relationship with the farmers continues, we will be there to support and provide a ready market for them so that business continues,” said Makurumidze.
Minister of State for Manicaland Province Chris Mushohwe, who toured the three projects, raised concerns over the water and electricity rates charged by authorities, which he said should be lowered.Post published in: News