The Past and Future of Zimbabwean Agriculture

Published by Guy Taylor on

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Last Updated on 2023-03-26 by Guy Taylor

It has been a while since I have blogged. That which I have going on in my life, both from a current existence and something I am working towards has preoccupied me which has precluded me from doing much writing at all, whether it be with the books I am writing (which I shelved temporarily some time ago) or with my blogging.

The main thing I have not written about in a while is anything agricultural. My previous agricultural blog was on agricultural automation and before that was a piece on the global grain crisis and ways it could be combatted which I stick by. I will place hyperlinks for these at the bottom of this blog.

On the agricultural automation part I am old enough (or too traditional?) to believe that any work should be human with as little assistance, or interference from the world of robotics as much as possible. A robot is not going to mend or build my fence, a robot is not going to move my cattle from pasture to pasture, a robot is not going to detect whether my cattle have a disease or not, or if a pregnant cow is going to calve prematurely within the next few minutes or hours. Similarly a robot is not going to brand, tag, dose and vaccinate my heifers and steers at the right time of season. And whilst they possibly can do some of the aforementioned they will never be able to do any of it as well as a human can because we simply know what we want and we know what our employer wants, if we are hands that pay attention and are able to know exactly what our bosses want without them having to give us instructions – you know, like using our God given common sense and initiative and being conscientious. As hands we are relied upon for those qualities (not that I am a ranch or farm hand). As much as I believe all ofΒ  that, I am not too keen on the idea of driverless tractors either, not only that though – I am heavily anti-AI taking over our way of life and working its way into our daily existence. I think it is extremely dangerous territory and it should have been left well alone.

That said though, I am not here to split hairs on agricultural automation in any part of the sector. I will admit though,that maybe some parts – such as milking machines for dairy cattle do in fact have their place but I draw the line thereabouts as I am more of a beef cattle kinda guy. I’m specially interested in the Angus and Wagyu breeds and grass fed, which were only formed comparatively recently; unlike my shared passion for Brahman’s that I have had since I was a kid.

Today though I want to write about the future of Zimbabwean agriculture and the full potential to step into the future. To do that we do have first to dive into the past a bit and to do this I have co-authored a part of this blog with my father who is by far much more qualified on the subject of Zimbabwe’s inherently wealthy and competitive agricultural past.

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Zimbabwe’s Rich Agricultural Past:-

Zimbabwe’s (formerly Rhodesia) agricultural prowess goes back only 120 odd years to the time when white settlers arrived in the country in the 19th century in the early 1890s. The country has a good climate and variable soils, enabling it to grow a very diverse range of crops

Commercial farmers proved themselves most innovative, enabling them to meet the various challenges in an ever changing world.

An excellent research and development initiative enabled plant breeders to develop seed most suitable for all agro regions across the country, from the various breeds of tobacco through to oil seeds, horticulture, wheat, barley, through to small grains.

Livestock production produced some of the worlds top beef, exported to a lot of EU states and the country became renowned for its quality. Our cheeses won accolades at international agricultural shows, and our flowers featured on the markets of Holland and other European markets.

Agriculturally the country was self-sufficient and had food security of a high standard. The country boasted the world’s largest single owned citrus estate, grew thousands of hectares of high quality cotton with world-record yields. It was the world’s second largest tobacco producer behind the United States and the world leader in both yield and quality. A particular variety of maize (corn), SR-52 achieved a yield world record. Meat canning factories, fruit and vegetable processing plants were dotted throughout the country.

Agriculturally, the country worked to the very fullest of its potential. The factors contributing to why it is no more are beyond the reaches of this presentation. I was proud to have been part of it, albeit in a very small way.

Written by Stu Taylor

Author ofΒ Lost in Africa (Out-of-Print)
Full Circle (Available as eBook on Amazon and hardcopy (only available in Zimbabwe))

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As one can see, Zimbabwe’s agriculture is steeped in a rich and vibrant past and it is that past that could make its future even better, brighter and even richer making it inherently advantageous for the country and future generations to come. I say “could”, not lightly due to the obstacles in the way of agricultural progression. Obstacles by way of economical, social and political growth, or in this case, lack thereof.

Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Future:- Crops.

The country’s diverse climate makes it ideal to farm nearly every crop in the agricultural sector in the world, from all the grains (both that were previously farmed and have not yet been introduced to the country), the maize varieties, the tobacco, the cotton but to name a few others. It is however time Zimbabwe re-embraced its possibilities and pushed into the future. Of course, with crop farming in this day & age a lot needs to be taken into consideration, especially surrounding climate change. I think that if anything the last decade has really shown how vastly, and swiftly things are changing. The Southern Hemisphere is getting colder during its winters and the Northern Hemisphere is getting hotter during its summers, but this was going to happen – it’s nature, it is down to time and has only been expedited by human greed on industrial levels.

All of the aforementioned needs to be taken into consideration when preparing to seed crops and the possibility of introducing new crops into the spectrum in both the short and long term, for both local and export markets.

For a couple of years I have been toying around with the idea of the possibility of Zimbabwean farmers introducing Canola as well as Bolita beans which are native to New Mexico in the United States, as well as other crops farmed in various places around the world with similar climatic conditions similar to that of Zimbabwe. Then there is the idea of farming hay on a medium to large scale for both local use and for the export market, across the African continent as well as overseas markets.

Bolita Beans

Canola Field, Alberta, Canada

Hay Field, Colorado, United States

It really is time for Zimbabwe to get back on track in order to rebuild for future generations and rebuilding those agricultural foundations is important. Whether this can be done heavily depends on several factors, including political and economic reasons.

(Edit: Since last updating this blog after someΒ in-depth research I have discovered that nowhere in Zimbabwe is Canola suitable as it requires significant rainfall. However Bolita Beans would thrive as it has conditions similar to those ofΒ Northern New Mexico, of where it is native.Β The same is of hay. So only Canola isΒ unsuitable for Zimbabwe)

Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Future: – Livestock.

There are farming techniques used all across the first world and even across Asia that can be implemented in Zimbabwe, such as how cattle are raised across various parts of the world, especially in North America using low stress techniques from moving a herd of cattle from one pasture to another with virtually zero stress put on the cattle, this would however require moving the cattle on horseback over long distances. Having low stress techniques is beneficial in so many ways, not only to the livestock themselves but also to the farmer. Not only does stress breed stress (because let’s face it, a stressed out bull, cow or calf will stress out not only the rancher but also the hands/workers.) But low stress has been proven in agricultural science to be more productive in a bovines development, including cognitive – cattle are not stupid, they are not just animals and need to be treated with the respect they deserve – and not just a money making machine. A less well developed bull, cow, heifer or steer will fetch much less at an auction/market than a well developed animal will. An animal which has been raised with low stress will always fetch more at auction because they are better developed and easier to handle.)

Furthermore, if and when the animal goes to slaughter there will be a difference in meat production and quality. Low stress will always trump a stressed animal. These low stress techniques have interested me for a while now and as it is proven to be a valuable strategy it is without a doubt something I will continue to look into more and will hopefully be able to put into practice in the not too distant future whilst I work towards the next chapter in my journey.

The benefits of low stress techniques far outweigh the alternatives. Creating a relationship with your cattle as seen here with this Texan rancher and his Black Angus creates for so many benefits, both internally for the bovine as well the rancher and the consumers.

The same applies to the training of horses in an agricultural environment. A horse should never be broken or bent to human control or will. They are not a tool, they are a partner (in all aspects of equestrian life/horsemanship, not just agricultural) and so when it comes to training techniques they should be with the horse and its needs in mind. It takes meeting a horse halfway for them to place their hope and trust in us. From rearing to all aspects of training and horsemanship, including the various desensitization techniques – but to make it fun for the horse. The more fun that it is for the horse the more it will trust you and bond with you. Humans and horses are very much the same, we both have reactive spirits, we are both fight or flight creatures and, as I have stated in another previous blog of mine on the misdeeds of horse racing, to understand a horse and for it to understand us we must meet halfway.

Culture vs Modernization: –

I was recently told that the issue is culture and not wanting to embrace new techniques and that they’d rather reinvent the wheel over and over and over again. This approach holds no advantage for current or future generations because all they will know is how to reinvent an already working wheel. What needs to happen here is a change in culture and attitudes and instead of reinventing a wheel, improve upon it.Β  This is what happened when Zimbabwe’s agricultural infrastructure was broken –Β  it took everything backwards and whilst it is no longer going backwards it is stuck in a part of time that it should not be when it had all the potential to move beyond its other African counterparts and alongside its various European and North American counterparts.

Zimbabwe has the infrastructure, commercially, industrially and socially to move forward.

I know of at least one Zimbabwean farmer, a dairy farmer and a friend of my fathers who immigrated to New Zealand some time ago and armed with the knowledge and techniques he gained in New Zealand he returned to Zimbabwe and he put those techniques he learnt abroad into practice. Now he owns a successful dairy farming setup, one of the few commercial farmers being allowed to farm.

Summary:-

It is far too easy to use the excuse of culture to stick to doing something the same old way; sometimes we need to take a step back in order to step forward. Attitudes in Zimbabwe have needed change for as long as I can remember, not only from the introduction of new crops but in the introduction of techniques surrounding livestock and also in the treatment of farm workers. That has been foremost on my mind since I was in my early twenties.

Things need to change in order for Zimbabwe to become a fully recognized agricultural state once again. There is the old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks; I’m here to tell you, from experience that that is horse sh*t. Anyone can change any aspect of their life if they allow it, it is down to mindset, period. If you allow yourself to change it can be done.

Hyperlinks:

Agricultural Automation: What Works and What Shouldn’t Even Be Considered to Touch

An Approach To The Global Grain Issue

The Ugly Misdeeds and Truths of Horse Racing

Zimbabwe and Its Suicidal Course

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