AGRICULTURAL Centres of Excellence (ACEs), which were established by the European Union funded Zimbabwe Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Services (Zakis) project, have set up commercial ventures to facilitate commercially oriented training, agricultural entrepreneurship, and best practice knowledge transfer.
The ACEs were established at Chibero Agricultural College and Matopos Research Institute as well as at district level centres in Mhondoro-Ngezi, Insiza, Matobo and Chegutu.
Speaking during a recent ACE strategy planning workshop, Zakis institutional capacity building officer Kumbirai Nhongo said: “The income from these commercial ventures will allow the centres to sustainably carry out their key mandate of sharing agricultural knowledge and promoting innovations.”
Nhongo said that in line with best business practice, all the centres have appointed management committees composed of local experts, farmer representatives and community leaders to provide oversight on activities and ensure good corporate governance.
He added: “The centres started with commercial production of horticulture and maize crops in the current season and we plan to start agro-processing ventures which will see the centres manufacturing branded products by 2022.”
With strong links to over 100 000 farmers, ACEs are also important hubs for harmonising the delivery of research, education, and extension services to farming communities. Commenting on ACE activities in a recent interview, Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement permanent secretary John Basera said that the centres were key to the government’s Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy which envisions an US$8,2 billion agriculture economy by 2025.
“This is because they are linked to farmers and they play the critical role of carrying out research, demonstrating good agricultural practices and disseminating information to farmers. For us to transform agriculture we need to close a fundamental gap or this puzzling divergence which is that our research yields are increasing while actual farm productivity is decreasing.
“We need to close that gap through knowledge sharing and learning events at the ACEs and ensure that information for improved productivity is effectively disseminated to farmers,” he said. To facilitate knowledge sharing, the centres would organise learning events that include innovation platforms, field days and farmer training workshops in partnership with the ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement.
Nhongo said that in order to strengthen the centres’ production capacity, Zakis provided farming equipment that included irrigation systems, boreholes and solar pumps.
“In addition, we have also completed setting up the plots for crop production and refurbished animal husbandry facilities at all the centres,” he said.
The Zakis project is part of the European Union funded Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP) whose overall objective is to improve agricultural growth and boost rural green economic development in the country