THE adverse impact of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions on the agriculture sector demands enhanced collective preparedness among key stakeholders to avoid loss of business in times of such shocks, farming experts have said.
Zimbabwe has been on lockdown mode since March 30, which is being periodically reviewed although essential services remained in business but for limited business hours.
The agriculture sector was initially not considered part of essential services, which undermined farming communities’ access to markets and sources of inputs such as seed, fertilisers, chemicals, breeding stock feeds, finances, transport and communication services, as urban were closed.
Farmers have decried reported seizure and destruction of perishable commodities, which deprived them of important incomes and source of livelihoods during the most trying time.
The disruptions on supplies on inputs and transport of agricultural commodities caused market instabilities and food price increases that greatly compromised food security among net food buying households and communities.
On the part of Government agencies, the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) said the Covid-19 experience, which first saw the sector being forced to close as part of the lockdown measures before it was gazetted as an essential service, was clearly a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing.
AMA said this development calls for better communication, co-ordination and implementation consensus on key policy decisions towards saving perishable food items, farm incomes and business opportunities in future.
Addressing farmers, seed producers and Government officials at the just ended Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) 80th annual congress in Gweru, AMA production planning director, Mr Maxwell Chikanda, said his association stands ready to cooperate with value chain participants including farming individuals, associations and farmers’ unions.
“The impact of Covid-19 on the agriculture sector demands for a better collective preparedness among producers, buyers, finance, transporters and the Government agencies alike,” he said.
Mr Chikanda said AMA has embarked on wider consultations and farmers unions assisted aggregation, grading, classification, transportation marketing arrangements for safety of market participants.
These developments, he said, are in line with the Covid-19 guidelines that are shifting agricultural marketing trends towards online systems as value chains players move towards minimum contact and avoid mass or crowd interactions.
Mr Chikanda said going forward, AMA will be leveraging on digital marketing technologies by communicating with farmers through SMS and promoting use of virtual market platforms for delivery of fresh produce packed and handled in hygienic manner.
He said AMA will be supporting transportation of agricultural products when transactions have been concluded with the excess being channelled for value addition into dried vegetables, canned products and juices.
AMA has also adopted the use of digital technologies for engaging farmers unions representatives through consultative virtual meetings, seminars and conferences, a development that has culminated in great savings for us all.
“I, therefore, wish to take this opportunity to urge our counterparts in the agricultural input manufacturing and distribution, transportation and financial services to follow suit and adopt more effective and cost saving strategies of serving the farming communities to attain optimum incomes and enhanced livelihoods in line with the Vision 2030 targets.
“The Covid-19 disruptions to the agricultural sector value chains challenges AMA to consider more effective and efficient ways of marketing inputs and produce,” said Mr Chikanda.
Addressing the same congress, ZFU president, Mr Abdul Nyathi, commended the Government for making agriculture as an essential service during the Covid-19 induced lockdown — a development he said saw farmers working on maximising on food production for the country.
During the first phase of the lockdown, he said there was a significant loss of produce with exports becoming subdued.
Mr Nyathi said local demand for produce slumped with the supply of agriculture inputs dropping in a development that saw prices shooting up beyond the reach of many.
“From the ruins caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to join hands and build back, better institutional frameworks, supportive policies, early warning systems, and disaster response and preparedness hence we seek to further interrogate best ways to rebuilt from the negative impact brought by Covid-19,” he said.
Mr Nyathi said there was a need to build resilience and diversity and competitive agriculture value chains. -@chronicles