By Felix Matasva, Manicaland Correspondent
UNITED States agricultural development specialist, Dr Patrick Ludgate, has trained at least 99 small farmers in Manicaland Province, in a project that will see them increasing their incomes by practising market oriented agriculture as opposed to subsistence farming.
The training, which was conducted at Deure Irrigation Cooperative Society Limited’s outlet in Birchenough Bridge for the past two weeks, was funded by USAID and implemented through Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA).
The program, being implemented in other provinces, is aimed at providing technical assistance to farm groups in emerging economies to promote sustainable improvements in food security, agricultural processing, production and marketing.
It comes at a time when most eastern highlands small farmers are crying foul over exploitation by greedy middlemen who set the price for their produce, and get higher returns than them, despite incurring notable costs during the production cycle.
Ludgate imparted business management skills to small farmers drawn from Birchenough Bridge irrigation schemes, namely Maunganidze, Bonda and Deure.
A retired USAID agricultural development specialist, Ludgate, in 1987 attained a PhD in Agricultural Economics at Colorado State University.
For the past 35 years he has worked with small farmers in central Asia and Africa, helping them to increase their agricultural production.
Speaking to NewZimbabwe.com Saturday in Birchenough Bridge after the handover of certificates, he said the training was significant as it gave farmers an understanding of how businesses are operated.
“It was important as I taught farmers how small businesses are operated so that they can improve their productivity. This will enable them to have more agricultural products to sell and then be able to feed their families at higher level.
“They must contribute to their cooperatives so that they grow and expand through additional commodities and services. This will enable them to become more prosperous while their cooperatives grow larger, thereby including more farmers,” Ludgate said.
“I started with the business plan for the Deure Irrigation Cooperative and used that as a model for farmers to learn how businesses are designed and managed in terms of its finances and how to determine the market value of products.
They must add their labour and time into the cost of production equation so that they request the higher value, and higher return on the cost of production,” he said.
He castigated a trend in developing countries, whereby farmers do not factor in time they spent in the fields, saying they are seized with making a few dollars that might not cover all costs incurred during the production cycle.
The US expert added that good record keeping can help local farmers to be aware of their losses before they completely run out of money.
“So we are trying to increase farmers’ income by moving away from subsistence agriculture to market oriented agriculture so that their life can be much better.
“They can buy more books for children and sent them to school, provide for health care and better nutrition because they are now looking at farming as business, not as a way to only generate food for the family,” said Ludgate.
A female legume grower at Maunganidze Irrigation Scheme, Roina Magadzika (45), said following participation in the training, she now wants to venture into peanut butter processing.
“I am grateful to be part of this training. My main aim now is to buy a peanut butter processing machine so that I add value to the groundnuts that I grow. I will package my products so that I will increase my income. I will also try to lobby for a registered cooperative within our irrigation scheme like what our counterparts from Deure have done,” she said.
Deure Irrigation Cooperative Society Limited scheme business manager, Victor Makuyana, said that the training helped them to focus on the basic fundamentals of their vision in order to achieve their goals.
“Dr Ludgate helped us to review the business plan of our irrigation scheme’s cooperative. We are going to strengthen our financial management, governance, balancing the equation of young people and women participating in decision making processes.
“Besides companies from Bulawayo who are our major customers, this season we are also looking forward on increasing our market share by supplying our produce to local schools and hospitals in Manicaland province,” he said.