FELIX JUMBE, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, shares his views, with our reporter BONIFACE PHIRI, on suggestions to subsidise large scale agricultural production.
Is large scale commercial agricultural production the solution to the country’s food security challenges?
Commercial scale agricultural production, coupled with proper policies, can be the ultimate solution to food production and poverty reduction. If government promoted large scale agriculture, it could make a difference as it would provide diversified agricultural productivity, which would result in a surplus to generate extra gain. However, before doing this we need to bear in mind that large scale farming requires large amounts of fertilisers and pesticides which will have to be imported. Large scale commercial production can have both negative and positive results. The majority of these commercial initiatives are aimed at foreign markets through exports. On the positive side, this can bring necessary infrastructural improvements to rural areas in addition to technical knowhow. But, I must add that if not properly implemented, we might end up seeing large scale farms grabbing the best soils and water sources from smallholder farmers, which may result in conflicts.
Q2How can this really guarantee food security in the country?
In developing countries, including our neighbouring countries, it is large scale farmers who feed the populace. The reality is that smallholder farmers’ first aim to feed their individual households whereas large scale commercial farmers look at the bigger picture. So, commercial agriculture guarantees food, income and export security.
But, do smallholder farmers have to be completely ignored?
That would be suicidal. They need not to be abandoned rather they should be empowered. I have always argued that farmers should be allowed to own Admarc through cooperatives and government can only capitalise it. This would ensure that the corporation operates in the best interests of farmers. It’s only when farmers are grouped into cooperatives that they become an economic force to be reckoned with and individual successes trickle down to the national stage.
Q4How should government approach this if it buys the idea?
You learn from others. Government can learn how our neighbouring and advanced countries have managed to successfully do this. The second stage is to localise the lessons with proper policies so that some quarters, especially smallholder farmers, don’t feel cheated.