Posted on , 24 February 2021
Written By Amos Batisayi
While his peers have left the country in search of greener pastures, it is a different story for Nigel Dube, a father of two who has consistently stayed in the country in anticipation of better fortunes for his life through farming.
Cotton farming has been the major agriculture income earner for farmers in the Gokwe South District. A lot of families migrated to the district in search of better life by growing cotton which is popularly known as the “white gold” and a lot of families used to earn a good living through cotton farming in the district.
Cotton farming was viable crop for farmers until 2006 when prices on world market started falling, of late it has been characterized by pricing disputes between farmers and contracting companies.
The rainfall decrease did not just impact on cotton output alone but also on social and human capital as children drop out of school because parents did not afford to pay their school fees and meet other necessities.
Nigel’s family migrated to Jahana ward 17 in Gokwe South in early 1980s and he grow up knowing that cotton farming is a lucrative business, however this has changed over the years as farmers continue to make losses and the prizes changed, this resulted in many families abandoning cotton farming business and were left with no option but to rely with maize as the only source of their income.
Like many rural families in Gokwe South he has struggled to take care of his family’s needs. His friends and immediate family members have left the country in search of employment abroad, he too thought of doing the same however fear of the unknown kept him in the country.
‘Over the years l have tried different ways to generate income for my family through engaging in different activities such as molding bricks and bricklaying in our community however this has nor given me positive results’ said Nigel Dube.
“Over the years l have majored in farming as a source of income, however l have to admit it did not yield any positive results because Grain Marketing Board (GMB) were l sold my produce offered prizes in RTGS and by the time it will be paid, the money will have lost its value due to inflation hence l found it hard to take care of my family and do other developmental projects at my homestead.
While Nigel was pondering his next move and was about to give up on farming and go to South Africa like his peers thus when he heard that Agriculture Business Centre (ABC) a European Union Funded project that is being implemented by Welthungerhilfe was identifying potential sunflower farmers in his area, to do contract farming for the crop.
“My negative experience with cotton was still fresh in my mind hence l was reluctant to do contract farming or any sort, I greeted the idea with skepticism and doubt however with frustrations and broken dreams l decided to take a chance and participate in sunflower contract farming’ said Nigel.
He went on to say ‘I was a bit hesitant at first because of my previous history in contract farming, I had several doubts in my mind and had a lot of questions than answers, wat if ABC stop buying the crop?, what will l do with the crop considering that there are no serious buyers of the crop in our area? Considering that no buyers have been in the district, l kept doubting if l was going receive adequate money to transform my life”.
“I was tired of empty promises and false hope as different companies would come in our area promising new things but failed to honor the promises”.
ABC field officer Kudakwashe Machiya told me that ABC was commercializing the farming of sunflower in the district, it is after this lengthy discussion with Kudakwashe that I started to have different perception towards sunflower farming, he gave me strength and encouraged me to keep focused.
“I then finally decided to be contracted by ABC and became producer group chairperson for my area”.
I planted the crop and the field officer kept visiting my field to access the crop and I was so motivated by the trainings and extension services that was being offered by ABC staff
Time to sell my produce finally came, that is when my life changed, the price was so lucrative it was more than the price of cotton, I got paid instantly when l delivered my produce.
“Although it was my first attempt to do sunflower farming, I managed to sell 3 tons of sunflower. From the proceeds l managed to buy a cart and completed the construction my house which l had struggled to complete in the past years because of financial challenges l faced as a farmer. l also managed to buy clothes for my family and some groceries which are going to keep us for their entire year till the next harvest”.
“I would like to thank ABC and their partners for commercializing sunflower value chain in Gokwe “sunflower is widely adaptable and more drought tolerant than other grain crops, it can, in fact, tolerate high temperatures and drought conditions more effectively than other crops such as maize hence I am more excited and committed to work with ABC in the development and commercialisation of this value chain in Gokwe.”
Farmers are really excited to work with ABC because it is providing farmers with all the necessary provisions for the proper development of the crop by giving the small holder farmers inputs and extension services so as to improve the quality of the produce. Providing certified seeds is important as the oil content of the crop will be high and high yielding sunflower means good profit margins to the farmers as well as the pressing companies.
There are generally little cost of inputs in the production of sunflower, with changing rainfall patterns, and extended drought seasons embracing the development of sunflower value chain is one of the noble things that farmers should decide to do to cushion their families from the effects of drought that is affecting the nation said Nigel Dube.
The Agriculture Business Centre is not only working with contracted farmers in the district, it also bought sunflower from non-contracted farmers. Sikathazile Dube 39-year-old women in Jahana is excited to have sold her sunflower to ABC although she was not contracted to produce sunflower by ABC.
She narrates how she has been surviving on cotton farming and other crops as source of income, but this has changed because of various reasons that range from pricing disputes as well as drought that has been ravaging the country.
“For many years cotton has been my main cash crop however lately global prizes have flopped, l was forced to stop cotton farming. The government has been subsidizing cotton farming by giving inputs however despite all these efforts we have made losses and many a times we have generally failed to meet the costs of production, faced with all these challenges I decided to stop cotton farming and engage other crops such as maize and sorghum” she said.
Lack of reliable markets has also been one of the main constraints faced by smallholder farmers. Many farmers have been receiving low prices for their produce by selling them to middlemen.
After receiving little rains during the past farming seasons, l decided to diversify and put more effort on drought resistant crops such as millet, sorghum and sunflower to cushion myself from the effects of drought.
“Although l was not sure of where l was going to sell my sunflower, my target was to sell the produce to local oil pressers who would come in our area and buy sunflower although the prizes would be low, l was just determined to produce something that would bring income for myself and my family”.
During the 2019-2020 farming season l managed to harvest a total of 5 tons of sunflower. While l was still deciding on where l would sell my sunflower l heard that ABC was buying sunflower from non-contracted sunflower farmers. I was greatly impressed by the price they offered and sold 3.5 Tons to ABC in return l got Eight hundred and seventy-five United States Dollars (USD 875.00). I have since used the money to drill a well at my homestead because there are water challenges in my area. I have also managed to buy a submissble water pump that I will be using to pump water from the well and solar panels.
I have taken this approach after noticing that my livestock walk long distances to drinking areas during the dry season, hence the decision to have a water source near my homestead will go a long way in helping my animals and myself.
Very soon I will be diversifying into gardening because in my area generally there are few people who are into gardening, it will be my other source of income and that will improve my life and of my family.
The commerlization of sunflower value chain by Agriculture Business Centre in Gokwe South will go a long way in tackling rural poverty by increasing productivity and income of smallholder farmers.
This development has received positive response from Gokwe small holder farmers as they view the development Sunflower as a direct replacement of the white gold (cotton) which continues to experience drops in world prices.
Farmers who have so far sold their produce to ABC expressed satisfaction to the prices that are being offered by ABC and they have committed themselves to the development of sunflower value chain in the district and they have made good income