Zimbabwe: Small-Scale Farmers Decry Limited Access to Markets

Chibuwe in Chipinge Rural District Council Ward 20 is a village, about 400 km south east of the capital city of Harare. The village is in ecological region four and relies on small holder agriculture with crops such as grains, cotton, sugar beans, ground nuts, paprika and tomatoes among the major cash crops sustaining villagers.

Various selling points within the area’s irrigation schemes, in addition to the main growth point, connect farmers, vendors, large scale buyers and ordinary buyers who snap up produce as demand remains consistent.

However, since last year when the country implemented various levels of lockdowns to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, women small holder farmers are still bearing the brunt.

Access to lucrative markets was cut off, leaving them stranded with their produce, in some cases recording up to 70 percent in financial losses. Others have resorted to selling their produce for a song.

With private transport operators suspended, except for the State-run Zupco, farmers like Annaloice Makaza Dube’s access to markets has been limited. She has been into groundnuts production for years alongside other cash crops such as sugar beans and vegetables. But the 2020/21 selling season has been bad. Limited buyers have been coming to the area buying groundnuts and sugar beans at low prices, taking advantage of the limited access to lucrative markets, resulting in reduced income.

“The situation is bad, there are unscrupulous buyers who come and detect the price for us because they know our options are limited. We have resorted to selling our produce at ridiculous prices because there are no buyers due to Covid 19.

“Before the pandemic, some buyers would flock here and buy our produce at competitive prices, but it’s all gone, predatory buyers are now taking advantage of this situation,” said Mrs Dube, who is a mother of three.

Mrs Dube planted a hectare of groundnuts but failed to break-even as she sold her them for US$3 for a 20l bucket.

Statistics from Knowledge Transfer Africa (eMkambo) shows that average selling price for groundnuts at the main market in Chipinge Town is US$8 for a 20l bucket.

“Our efforts amounted to nothing, I personally had no choice but to accept that low price in order to pay for utilities only, the money is not enough to sustain my family and afford decent education for my children,” she said.

The unscrupulous middle-men

Mrs Dube’s story is shared by other women who rely on farming for both household consumption and as a source of income.

Mother of five Evelyn Nduwa said this selling season has been the toughest as access to more lucrative markets has been cut off due to Covid-19 induced restrictions.

She cited unscrupulous middle men as one of the major challenges farmers -not only women-in the area are facing.

“Prior to Covid-19 I could afford the basics for my family, but now it is difficult. Another challenge is middle men take a percentage of the amount offered by buyers such that by the end of the sale, we will take home peanuts. This year most of us were left with produce as those few buyers were overwhelmed, further reducing the prices.

“The other problem is as women we cannot stay at market places until late in the evening, we have to quickly sell and go home whilst it’s still day time, therefore end up selling at low prices as we cannot hold on to produce for long. This challenge is not only for perishables like tomatoes, but sugar beans and groundnuts as well. For years we have been into sugar beans production but this season was the worst because of lack of access to markets due to Covid-induced restrictions,” she said.

Markets as enablers for growth

Ward 20 Councillor Charles Mugidho Mahlonga acknowledged the challenges being faced in the area in accessing ready markets for agriculture produce.

He emphasised farming should be treated as a business that should bring income at household level and transform communities. However, in Chibuwe, the 2020/21 season has been bad as villagers did not realize any profits from their crops.

“It is true that crops are being sold at below average market price because there is limited access to markets. Yet farmers fork out a lot of money for inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides.

“We need to come together as farmers and organize ourselves. Currently we are working with development partners and Agritex to train not only women but all farmers in market linkages, we already have a committee for that but still facing challenges such as use of digital platforms to market our produce at a time transport is still a challenge due to the pandemic,” he said.

Speaking at a recent Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development debt and inequality seminar, Vendors Initiative for Social and Transformation director Samuel Wadzayi said access to markets are an enabler to economic transformation for the informal small holder businesses.

“Informal traders need access to markets in order to realize profits because they are currently unable to benefit from their efforts and work.

“Zimbabwe has a huge informal sector and more needs to be done to assist this sector,” he said.

Ray of hope

Ms Nduwa said she is demotivated but still has no other option but continue with farming business.

“It is now a liability for us yet we have limited options. We are hoping the next season will be much better now that there is vaccination programmes in place.

“We hope to see big companies also coming for contract farming arrangements, these usually give us ready markets,” she said.

With coming of the commodities exchange – the Zimbabwe Mercantile Exchange (ZMX) – a partnership between the Government and the private sector led by Financial and Securities Exchange Limited (FINSEC), TSL Limited and CBZ Holdings, small holder farmers from across the country have hope.

The exchange will be anchored on the warehouse receipt system, which helps in ensuring an efficient market with a fair price discovery system that gives access to both local and international commodity buyers and better margins for the farmers.

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