IN THE wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Agriculture Marketing Authority (Ama) has embarked on an ambitious digitalisation programme to effectively execute its mandate as set out in the Agricultural Marketing Act.
Ama recently appointed Clever Isaya to spearhead the digital transformation of agriculture marketing in the country.
Daily News on Sunday Senior Staff Write Blessings Mashaya recently met the turnaround strategist to get his insights on various issues relating to the agricultural sector in the country. Below are the excerpts.
Q: You were recently appointed to lead the turnaround of Ama. How are you settling in?
A: I have settled in well and I’m happy to say that we are busy setting the foundation for a major transformation of the authority. The first step was to remodel the authority in order to fully serve agricultural value chains across sub sectors that we regulate, which are grains and oil seeds, horticulture, fruit and vegetables and livestock and poultry.
Q: What is the role of Ama in ensuring the success of the agricultural sector in the country?
A: Ama plays a central role in ensuring the general success of agriculture in the country. Our overarching role entails ensuring domestic food security on key competitive crops, providing marketing infrastructures, promoting value addition and capacity building on production standards.
One cannot talk of successful agriculture management if these key factors are not in place. Thus agricultural marketing is at the heart of creating self-supporting agriculture as it enables stimulation of production and accelerated economic growth.
We achieve this by providing all Ama-registered value chain players with technical advice, agricultural best practice, market information and facilitate access to funding, among other interventions to help them be highly productive.
Q: What are you doing to close the information gap in agricultural markets?
A: Part of our digitalisation efforts are aimed at developing platforms that will make it easier for farmers to access market information at the touch of a button.
Our aim is to create organised marketing and logistics for improved trading channels for local farmers, mainly small-scale farmers. The desired outcome will lead to food sustainability, self-reliance and security through local farmers’ empowerment.
To this end, we work closely with other government departments such as veterinary services and agricultural extension services (Agritex) who disseminate information to farmers on agricultural best practise that lead to improved yields in different agro sectors. We also publish weekly commodity price bulletins to provide farmers with average selling prices of all major agricultural produce in the country.
Q: What is the role of technology in turning around our countries’ agricultural fortunes?
A: We are adopting digital solutions to confront challenges that have hamstrung our country’s true agricultural potential for a long time.
The country requires an estimated 2,5 million tonnes of grain for human and livestock consumption annually.
However, resource limitations and adverse climatic conditions mean that we have to import to avert anticipated shortages.
The country cannot continue on this unsustainable path and I’m happy to say that our new Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, Dr Anxious Masuka, has emphasised the need to focus on food security and import substitution as some of the areas that need immediate attention. As we undertake this transformation, technology will be the key lever to achieving our set targets.
We are currently working on a number of digital applications to promote smart agricultural production and marketing. These are expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.
Q: What plans do you have for agricultural chains in an effort to boost productivity?: Lack of necessary infrastructure, both production and market, is hindering participation of small holder farmers in agricultural value chains. We want to leverage on technology to encourage farmers to partake in the value chains in order to improve their skills set.
As farmers become active participants, there is competition and high quality food products. We are also going to be promoting investment in specific agricultural value chains.
Q: What’s your take on the current programmes aimed at boosting food self-sufficiency being undertaken by the government?
A: We are beginning to see a positive impact from the government-led agricultural programmes.
The Presidential Inputs Scheme has gone a long way in the provision of much needed inputs to promote agriculture production in the country. There are others programmes around mechanisation and irrigation that are set to benefit our farmers.
It would be a major omission if I don’t talk about the Pfumvudza programme that is proving to be a masterstroke in steering our agriculture on a recovery path.
The programme is ensuring food self-sufficiency at household level in rural areas and, therefore, quality of life which is consistent with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s vision for a middle income economy by 2030.
Q: What is the outlook for the agricultural marketing sector in 2021?
A: Early indications to a good rainy season. The country could have higher than average rainfall in the 2020-2021 cropping season, compared to the 2019/2020 farming season. With the Agricultural Recovery Plan set to come into effect this coming season, I’m confident that we are set for a major breakthrough in 2021.
I, therefore, urge all farmers to use the little time left before the start of the season to fine tune their plans in order to get off to a flying start.
As Ama, we are geared to provide the much needed support to all our stakeholders to ensure a successful cropping 2020/2021 season ahead.