Agricultural production and rural development in Zimbabwe – the role of ARDA

Agricultural production and rural development in Zimbabwe – the role of ARDA

By Calvin Manika

In a bid to secure food and promote rural development through agriculture in the country, the Zimbabwe’s government runs Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA). The institute acts as a buffer and back up source for food security, adding to the supplies from communal and commercial farmers across the country.

ARDA is a state-owned enterprise under the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries, Climate and Rural Resettlement.  The enterprise is mandated for spearheading the modernisation of agricultural production and rural development in Zimbabwe.

A statute of the parliament, ARDA Act empowers ARDA and give it its roles.  According to the preamble of the Act, it seeks to promote development through implementation of vibrant schemes in the agricultural sector aiming to reduce poverty especially in rural areas. According to ZimStats more than 70% of the population live in rural areas and survive on agriculture.

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In the recent decade, due to climate change most of the rural farmers are turning to cash crops such as tobacco, cotton and soya beans instead of the staple maize. Tobacco is the highest foreign currency earner among cash crops in Zimbabwe. In 2021, Zimbabwe exported over 200 000 tons of tobacco earning the country US$588.7 million.

Cotton, Zimbabwe’s second most important cash crop, and has been also on demand by farmers. The crop is usually grown under contract farming arrangements where contractors supply production inputs to farmers on loan. The influx of rural farmers to cash crops has been also influenced by the demand for soybeans which is on the rise owing to its use as cooking oil, stock feeds, and other foods. 

Despite the rise in the farming of cash crops, maize remains the Zimbabwe’s principal food crop.  According to a June 2022 Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Grain and Feed Annual report, Zimbabwe’s corn crop for marketing year 2022-2023 is estimated to be at 1.6 million metric tons – 43 percent less than the 2.7 million metric tons produced in marketing year 2021-2022. 

In the backdrop of climate change and other economic challenges ARDA has been resuscitated to be operational all year round.  The authority has substantial land holding across the country comprising of 21 estates with a total of 98,000 hectares of arable land of which 19 000ha is irrigable.  The interventions by the authority is commercial through its farms and rural development.

Currently 12 ARDA estates are into public private partnerships, these include Chisumbanje, Middle Sabi, Katiyo, Mkwasine, Sisi, Nandi, Faire Acres, Jotsholo, Antelope, Ngwezi, Sedgewik and Doreen’s Pride. The government operates ten estates on its own which include Mushumbi pools among others.

Agriculture remains important, both urban and rural people for healthy, sustainable and inclusive food systems. As a tool to eradicate poverty and boost prosperity, agriculture is expected to feed a projected 9.7 billion people by 2050.  In Zimbabwe, agriculture is also crucial to economic growth. World bank records show that, in some least developing countries, it can account for more than 25% of GDP.

Experts say, risks associated with poor diets are also the leading cause of death worldwide. Millions of people are either not eating enough or eating the wrong types of food, resulting in a double burden of malnutrition that can lead to illnesses and health crises. A 2021 report found that between 720 and 811 million people went hungry in 2020, more than 10% of the world’s population.

“Food insecurity can worsen diet quality and increase the risk of various forms of malnutrition, potentially leading to under nutrition as well as people being overweight and obese. An estimated 3 billion people in the world cannot afford a healthy diet,” said the report.

Zimbabwe has 4,130,000 hectares of arable land, with the economic performance largely depends on developments in its agricultural sector.

Last year the Minister responsible for Agriculture Dr Masuka said ARDA has potential to contribute 500 000 tonnes of cereals annually, 50 000 tonnes of fibre and a whopping 250 million litres of ethanol.

“The authority is a key player in food security. We want ARDA to partner small scale communal farmers for rural development and industrialisation through joint ventures. We will call in other investors to boost production and development so that food security is high,” said Masuka.

With the impact of the war in Ukraine adding risk to global food security, with food prices likely to remain high for the foreseeable future. Local experts say ARDA is the vehicle which can mitigate the risks through supporting rural development in food security.


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