Small farmers a vital cog in regional food security
Agriculture is the mainstay of the economies in most Southern African countries and has been like that for many centuries. At the forefront of sustaining the people through agriculture has mainly been smallholder farmers, most of whom are farming in unproductive lands. As the Sadc leaders hold their 34th Sadc Summit in Victoria Falls from August17-18, they must be aware that without adequately funding agriculture, there will be little progress in all other facets in the region.
Sadc countries depend on each other on agricultural produce, with Zimbabwe and South Africa, for example, receiving tonnes of produce from one another per year.
When agricultural production was at its lowest in Zimbabwe a few years ago, most of the agricultural produce which sustained the country came from South Africa.
The same situation also used to confront Zambia, with the country importing agricultural produce from Zimbabwe from time to time.
In fact, the availability of food unites people in the region and in such unity, the implementation of regional programmes will not be difficult.
Efforts by Sadc leaders to integrate the region can easily come to naught if they do not prioritise issues related to food.
What needs to be tackled first is the access to land by the majority of communal farmers who were marginalised because of colonial policies.
Without Sadc governments empowering the smallholder farmers with fertile land, food production will always remain a problem.
Zimbabwe has taken the first steps in the region in an attempt to correct the skewed situation in which those who concentrate on food crops were farming on unproductive lands.
The land reform programme in Zimbabwe, although it resulted in some years of food deficit in its early stages, with successive droughts playing a part, is now starting to bear fruits.
The country had a bumper harvest of the staple maize in the 2013-14 agricultural season, which was complemented by a good rainy season.
What the Zimbabwean Government needs to do now is to deliberately provide funding to the farmers to ensure they are able to purchase inputs and farming implements for the coming seasons.
But the focus for the governments in the region should be to shift attention from concentrating on large-scale farmers who have since abandoned food crops in favour of cash crops.
It is the small-scale farmers who are sustaining the region in terms of ensuring food security.
Every country in the region must ensure that agriculture is stimulated to help transform livelihoods and provide the impetus for development.
It is time that Sadc leaders start recognising the part being played by smallholder farmers in increasing agricultural production.
The fact that in Southern Africa more than 80 percent of the population is engaged in subsistence farming requires that those responsible for the sustenance of the sector rethink policies for this sector.
All along, the tendency has been for governments and donors to fund the established and modern commercial farmers, but a major shift is now required.
What is needed is an improved agricultural productivity in Sadc for the region to meet its demands on food security.
But before improvement in productivity can be realised, the region needs to deal with issues related to land tenure and ensure that there is enough funding to acquire appropriate farming systems and technology.
The Sadc region is blessed with numerous water bodies, including major rivers that feed into mega water projects, but the problem has been lack of innovation to harness the water.
Irrigation funding remains a problem in most countries in the region, with many of them having elaborate strategies, but failing to implement them.
Most of the countries in the region came up with perfect irrigation policies, but these are gathering dust in government offices due to lack of funding.
Yet, irrigation can change the food situation in the region for the better, starting with smallholder irrigation schemes which ensure food security at household level.
What is important for now is that Sadc leaders are aware of what needs to be done to ensure that there is sufficient food in the region.
This is why they came up with the Dar-es-Salaam Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in the Sadc Region recently, which seeks to develop a competitive agricultural sector.
The declaration notes that the sector can be improved upon through improved access to agricultural inputs, including seed, fertilisers and other agrochemicals.
It seeks to promote draught power and appropriate equipment for tillage and controls on diseases and improved crop storage and handling.
The declaration also calls for the development of drought-tolerant crops.
Sadc has a Food Security Programme and the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan to deal with issues of food security.
There is also the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Directorate which operates developmental programmes in agriculture.
Further, the Directorate of the Southern African Development Community Secretariat is tasked with the co-ordination and harmonisation of agricultural policies and programmes in the region.
With all these initiatives, it should not be difficult for the region to set up tangible systems to ensure adequate food provision and, as the Sadc leaders meet in Victoria Falls, they must also prioritise ways of ensuring that there is enough food in the region.