By Lennox Mhlanga

In the heart of Zimbabwe’s Mutoko District, a group of dedicated farmers is revolutionising the agricultural landscape. Through their hard work and determination, members of the Dorowera Irrigation Scheme in Ward 6 have found a sustainable livelihood and avoided urban vices.

Tinotenda Musowenyama (27) is one such young man, along with his wife Tariro Nyatsime (24) and sisters Mellisa Mesowenyama (21) and Julia Nyatsime (23), who work tirelessly to cultivate and harvest a variety of crops, including tomatoes, beans, maize, butternut, and cucumbers.

Despite the challenging climate of the region, their green belt thrives, thanks to the irrigation scheme. The young Mesowenyama family and around 40 other farmers in the area have found solace in this initiative, which not only supports their families but also contributes to the local economy.

However, the farmers face a significant hurdle when it comes to marketing their produce profitably in the markets in Mutoko and the capital, Harare. They are at the mercy of middlemen known as Makoronyera, who often exploit their hard work and pay them less than the fair value for their crops. This unfair system has hindered the farmers’ ability to thrive and reach their full potential.

Fortunately, a transformative event recently took place that promises to change the game for these farmers. The Adam Molai Foundation and the Disaster and Environmental Management Trust (DEMT) organized a market fair, where the farmers had the rare opportunity to meet potential buyers from Selby Enterprises and TM Pick’n’Pay. The primary goal of this visit was to promote a sustainable business culture among farmers and eliminate exploitative middlemen.

Selby Enterprises’ chief buyer, Isaac Chiwoya, and marketing manager, Happymore Bester, along with TM Pick’n’Pay’s Justin Chigumira and their Mutoko branch manager, James Chifamba, engaged in fruitful discussions with the farmers during the fair. They explored the crops that showed potential for purchase, such as tomatoes, carrots, baby marrow, onions, cucumbers, butternut, and beans.

Mr. Chiwoya told the farmers about their requirements and the buyers emphasised the importance of proper sorting and handling of the produce.

“We demand a very high standard in terms of the produce we market since we also cater for a large export market. You need to improve how you grow crops and meet hygiene and packing standards, Chiwoya said.
Justin Chigumira emphasized the need for villagers to sustain supply to meet market demand. He said that there should always be products available for them to order.
“There is no use if we are going to engage you today and down the line, you cannot meet our needs as retailers. We need produce all year round depending on what is in season. There should never be a time where we have to look elsewhere for what you can produce here,” he said.
The officials also had the chance to inspect the crops on the fields that showed great potential for purchase by these organizations, such as cucumbers, butternut, and beans. The potential of the area impressed them as far as meeting their requirements was concerned.
This initiative aligns with the sustainable development goal of ending poverty and creating a fair agricultural market. By empowering the farmers to sell their crops solely to retail companies, the Adam Molai Foundation and DEMT are promoting sustainable agriculture and guaranteeing that the farmers receive the full value for their hard work. This newfound marketing opportunity significantly empowers women farmers, who play a crucial role in the agricultural sector.

Nomagugu Nyaundi, the Executive director of the Adam Molai Foundation, said that this newfound marketing opportunity empowered farmers, especially women since they were the ones who did most of the work and were directly engaged with consumers.

“The Market Fair has gone a long way in ensuring that the farmers go a fair price for their produce. This leads to better profits and contributes to a more sustainable livelihood for their families. Women, who play a leading role in the irrigation scheme, are among those who have received training in financial literary and organic methods of farming,” she said.

Romeo Chingezi, the Head of Programmes and Resource Mobilization at the Disaster and Environmental Management Trust, expressed his satisfaction with the success of the Market Fair.

“This transformative event holds promise in removing the exploitative practices of middlemen, who have long taken advantage of our hardworking farmers. We anticipate a significant boost in profitability for farmers in Mutoko now that there is a reliable market, which will help improve their standard of living,” Chingezi said.

The Adam Molai Foundation, in partnership with DEMT, conducted a study under the Sustainable Transformative Entrepreneurial Farming (STEF) Project at the Dorowera Irrigation Scheme. The study aimed to assess the knowledge gaps and training needs of the farmers in farming as a business, financial literacy, and marketing. This information will help develop a capacity-building plan tailored to the specific needs of smallholder farmers.

As part of the market fair, Bhekizulu Ndlovu from Pamuvuri PVO took the opportunity to address the farmers on mental health issues, particularly the scourge of drug and substance abuse. While the farmers seemed aware of the drugs available in urban areas and the peer pressure that attracts youth to them, Ndlovu emphasized the importance of tackling this issue head-on.

The councillor for Ward 6, Sydney Nyatsine, acknowledged the existence of the problem by proposing the setting up of a committee to determine how much the drug abuse had affected the community, to determine where the drugs were coming from and how to recommend mitigation measures.

“It is our responsibility as a community to ensure that this problem does not overwhelm our area as is happening in urban areas. We have had how destructive drugs are to individuals and families and it is our responsibility that we work to identify and eliminate this scourge from our midst,” he said.

The Market Fair also garnered attention from officials from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and SMEs, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Development and Vocational Training, and the Agricultural Extension Services. Their presence highlights the significance of this initiative in promoting sustainable development and achieving national goals.

The success of the Market Fair marks a turning point for the farmers of Mutoko. With a reliable market and fair prices for their produce, these farmers can look forward to a more sustainable livelihood and a brighter future for themselves and their families. The empowerment of these farmers not only contributes to the local economy but also sets an example for sustainable agriculture across Zimbabwe.