Market gardening grows as pumps get cheaper

The new commercial agriculture is small-scale, dynamic and highly entrepreneurial, and is changing both production and markets, reports IAN SCOONES.

Changes in the costs of irrigation technology, the availability of water, and market opportunities have given rise to growth in small-scale commercial horticulture in recent years.

Gardening has always been part of farming practice in Zimbabwe’s rural areas. Usually a small river bank plot, or an area near the home, has been planted with vegetables for home consumption. Few farmers in the communal areas scale up to more commercial operations, as horticulture requires inputs – notably water – and marketing at scale is always a challenge given the perishability of most vegetables.

In the dryland settings of Masvingo, irrigation – particularly for horticultural crops – is essential. Yet state-led irrigation investment in Zimbabwe has been limited in recent years, despite being universally recognised as a top priority. So people have taken things into their own hands and are making use of low-cost irrigation technology to set up irrigation systems. The expansion of small-scale irrigation has been substantial.

In 2014 we undertook a survey of small commercial horticulture enterprises across our sites in Masvingo province. We identified 15 – of varying scales. Unlike the small ‘womens’ gardens’ that dominated vegetable production before, these were largely run by men, although always with strong involvement of their wives and other family members.

There was often a gendered differentiation in roles, with women mostly engaged in processing of vegetables, including drying, while men oversaw the transport and sales of vegetables to town. There was a cluster of such enterprises discovered in the Wondedzo area, making use of the availability of water in the Muturikwi River and the proximity to Masvingo town for marketing.

Cast Study 1

I live in Clare A1 resettlement area. My irrigated area is about 1.5ha. I started this project early 2004. We used to have a co-operative garden back in the communal area, before we came to the resettlement, so I carried the project from there. I invested a lot in this business. We sold our one ox, which costs $700, and two sheep costing $80 each giving me a total of $860 from livestock sales. The other money came from my husband`s basic salary, as he is an extension worker. I started this project with capital of $3000.

There were various costs including: land clearance ($200-00), pump purchase and its transport from Harare ($1200-00) and pipes including transport ($250-00). Later I also improved most of my structures and managed to construct a tank (costing $1105) and purchased another engine. I use my 10 horsepower diesel engine and 5 horsepower petrol engine in case of emergency. I bought them from Harare at ATM. I also bought some of my pipes in Masvingo at Irrigation Services in 2011 when I finished constructing my tank.

My plot has green maize (0.5ha), tomatoes (0.25ha), Potatoes (0.25ha), Onions (0.3ha) and Okra (0.2h). Costs include seed, fertiliser (both top and basal), pesticides, trellis and fence wire, and transport to get the inputs, from Masvingo or Gutu growth point – Farm and City or Masvingo Farm Supplies.

I use family labour and one permanent worker who is paid $90 per month, but lives as a member of the family and eats with us. At peak times I also hire in labour. For my temporary labourers I only pay $5 per day, and when weeding maize I pay them $1 per line of about 50m. For health and safety I bought protective clothing like overalls, gloves, raincoat, masks, gumboots, when using chemicals.

My major products are sold to the local farmers and some to the nearby Rufaro boarding school, as well as at Chatsworth Township. The cash I got from each crop is at least $500, meaning I earn about $2000 each year from the business.

Case Study 2

Presently I am using an area of about 0.8 hectares of my A1 farm in Wondedzo area for irrigation purposes which I started in August 2013. My water source for irrigation is the nearby Mutirikwi river. Currently I have one petrol pump – a 6.5 horse power Nexus model – which uses 75mm pipes and I use flood irrigation. So far I have only managed to grow two crops – green mealies and tomatoes -because I am still in the process of learning from others.

But as time goes on and through exposure and training we get from Agritex I shall venture into other crop production such as butternuts, potatoes, cabbages and carrots. The major market is Masvingo’s Chitima market, where I sold the bulk of the produce.

I invested about $600 into the project. I am a retired soldier, so I used my pension. The operations which include land clearance as well as fencing, was done by me and my family. I have one labourer who I pay $70 per month. Other benefits which we give to the employee include free accommodation and free food.

I take him as my son because he shares accommodation with my sons. He eats what he wants to eat as a family member. For his health and safety, I give my employee gumboots, a work suit and face masks /respirators which he uses during production operations in the field. The costs for the project were barbed wire ($195), pump ($220) and piping ($380). I bought all these materials from N.J in Masvingo town.

Pressure on water

A number of themes emerge from the examples of irrigation entrepreneurs we interviewed:

• Operations are relatively small, usually on 1-2 ha of land. Production is intensive, and often using significant amounts of chemicals

• Irrigation is essential, but pressure on water sources is intense as horticulture takes off in an area.

• The availability of cheap (Chinese) pumps has revolutionised the opportunities for irrigation. No longer is a ‘group garden’ approach required with a donor paying for the pump. These are all individual enterprises.

• Entry costs (because of low pump prices especially) are relatively low, and can be afforded by a wide array of people, using crop/livestock sales or retirement/remittance income to get going.

• Most are providing new employment, both permanent and temporary, although family labour dominates.

• Crop diversity is limited (green maize and tomatoes dominate), with problems of production gluts, although some more established enterprises have begun to diversify, seeking out niche markets, and managing production to take advantage of seasonal production and price cycles.

• Advice is sought from neighbours – particularly in the Wondedzo irrigation cluster – but also from Agritex, the government extension agency, who seem to be quite involved in horticulture production support.

• Processing and added value sales (drying, pickling etc.) is limited, and sales are mostly fresh (with big problems of perishability at peak times)

• Market access is crucial and it is the sites with smaller distances and good road connections (and relatively low transport costs) that take off.

• Marketing includes sales at ‘town markets’ (both informal and those regulated by municipal councils), to vendors (who come to the farm to buy), to supermarkets (relatively few, and only those with transport who can provide in bulk in a timely manner), and to local consumers in the area.

• Net income varies, but exceeds $1000 per annum in all cases, rising to perhaps $10000 or more. This income is significant in the wider livelihood portfolio.

The new small-scale dynamic of agricultural commercialisation is generating profits, supplying markets and providing employment. It does not involve everyone, as there are entry costs to each of these enterprises. Men certainly dominate pig and larger scale horticulture production, but broiler production also involves a significant number of women.

Run by families

In contrast to the ‘project’ focused development support of the past, these are mostly individual enterprises run by families, but hiring in labour. Technological innovation (and changing cost structures) – most dramatically around irrigation pumps – is important, as are input supply networks, product markets and transport linkages to ensure that produce is sold at good prices.

Market connections often remain underdeveloped, and market costs (notably transport) and other challenges were frequently mentioned in interviews. Opportunities for added value production remain limited, and most entrepreneurs are only involved in primary production, rather than processing etc. Upgrading of enterprises is ongoing, and we have seen these grow over the years, and particularly since the stabilisation of the economy in 2009, when market interactions with a dollarized currency became possible.

The new agricultural entrepreneurs on the new resettlements are definitely a group worth watching, as the agrarian landscape continues to change in Zimbabwe’s rural areas.

This work was undertaken under the Space, Markets, Employment and Agricultural Development project, and the field research was led by BZ Mavedezenge and Felix Murimbarimba. – Zimbabweland

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