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Reimagining community seed banks for resilience and food sovereignty – NewsDay

Starting at production level, these proponents of industrial seed talk about productivity, early maturity and drought tolerance as some of the advantages associated with industrial hybrids. This message is designed to portray industrial hybrids as having more comparative advantages against natural indigenous seeds.

THE fact that food should not be in the hands of corporates is no longer questionable. This is confirmed by the rise in local initiatives like community seed banks and various efforts to raise the profile of grassroots efforts and home-grown solutions. In addition to pushing back against corporates determined to capture African food systems, community seed banks demonstrate the extent to which communities and farmers have a key role in building diversity for the whole world.

Why community seed banks?

While African governments may have been captured by private seed companies, development agencies have played a positive role in supporting the establishment of community seed banks in many African countries. What gives the community seed bank concept more power and relevance is that it adopts traditional and cultural practices that recognise soil and seed as the main foundations for food sovereignty.

However, the biggest threat to community seed banks is the prevalence of a competitive landscape where community seed banks are competing with industrial seed systems which do not start as seed and end there but seed is part of a wide range of commercial products.

With tacit approval from policy-makers and government research institutions, proponents of industrial seed continue to promote the advantages of industrial seed systems against indigenous seed systems.

Starting at production level, these proponents of industrial seed talk about productivity, early maturity and drought tolerance as some of the advantages associated with industrial hybrids. This message is designed to portray industrial hybrids as having more comparative advantages against natural indigenous seeds.

For instance, some agronomists say hybrid maize can yield 10 tonnes per hectare while finger millet can yield three tonnes per hectare. Such a message is deliberately tailored to undermine small grains to the advantage of hybrids. As if that is not enough, there has been huge investments in appropriate technologies for hybrids compared to appropriate technologies for indigenous seeds like small grains and tubers.

Along formal supply chains, various products are produced from industrial seed through mechanised value addition processes to ensure the final product has more comparative advantages over indigenous food systems, for instance in the form of low prices.

Food products from industrial seeds are associated with less cooking time and the fact that more is produced per area through industrial processes ensures the final products lend on the market cheaply than indigenous food. There has also been a tendency, through persuasive advertisements, to attach nutrition to industrial products as part of the value proposition yet nutrition can be more associated with indigenous food.

Hidden costs of industrial seed systems

The whole industrial food production process emphasises advantages of industrial systems while ignoring the hidden costs of industrial processes and food systems. For example, starting from production, what is the environmental cost of using industrial methods in terms of soil, water and biodiversity? Along values chains, what is the impact of industrial processes on culture and tradition?

What are the long-term effects of using chemicals and preservatives in food to human health?  With no one conducting analyses to answer such questions, African countries continue to grapple with unexplained diseases which could be linked to industrial food systems.

Positioning community seed banks

It is against the above background that community seed banks are expected to make a difference in a competitive environment where industrial seed systems are well-supported with resources and enjoy recognition as well as protection from national policies.

For instance, industrial seed systems and related practices are heavily promoted in national programmes while indigenous food systems are mentioned in passing. Farmers and communities who should be championing the transition back to indigenous food systems are often powerless to openly contradict national policies that are pushing industrial seed and related food systems.

Thankfully, some development agencies are vigorously supporting, reviving and protecting indigenous food systems through community seed banks, food festivals and other approaches. However, the main challenge is that due to limited resources and preferences of some funders, these initiatives are done as projects with selected beneficiaries as opposed to working with entire communities.

Unless a whole community approach is embraced, efforts to set up community seed banks based on projects with few beneficiaries will not stand a chance in a competitive environment that has strong national institutions such as the Grain Marketing Board being used to push industrial seed and related inputs to farming communities who are too poor to resist hand-outs.

Benefits of taking a whole community approach

The main question is how can community seed banks and indigenous food systems be promoted to become viable community enterprises, sources of employment and income? This requires developing and supporting the whole community supply chain systems, beyond a few project beneficiaries.

Whole community approaches led by local leaders should be used starting from production. With enough awareness and empowerment, local leadership should be able to direct the utilisation of all community natural resources like land, water, forests, rivers and others towards food sovereignty.

Advocacy efforts should focus on ensuring land is set aside for indigenous food and upgrading community seed banks to increase food production as part of boosting the economies of scale for indigenous food.

Currently, due to competition for land and other resources between industrial food systems and indigenous food systems, farmers are producing small quantities of small grains and other indigenous foods, making it difficult to achieve economies of scale.

As more land, water and other resources are allocated to indigenous food, industrial food will be replaced by indigenous food systems including natural food such as wild fruits, vegetables and herbs. Traditional leaders should be empowered to declare that each farmer has to dedicate at least three-quarters of his/her land to indigenous food.

Boosting production will invite investors in appropriate technology which is necessary to support indigenous food.

Currently, an entrepreneur who spends US$100 000 to acquire appropriate food processing technology may not find enough quantities of small grains to fully utilise the technology.

Ideally, indigenous food should trigger the development of appropriate technologies, the way peanut butter processing has evolved from pestle and mortar to hand-driven technologies and now to motorised or solar technology.

Seed does not exist in isolation

The fact that seed cannot be treated in isolation calls for the need to focus on entire knowledge systems about the community. That way, a whole community approach will nudge communities to answer questions like how do we preserve seed in natural ecosystems like hills, mountain ranges, riverbanks and micro ecosystems that are part of human food production?

How do we connect the natural and human production systems? Many rural communities are now characterised by conflict between natural and human production system? In some cases, shortage of land is causing people to encroach into the natural food system at the expense of wild animals like baboons, birds and bees that end up without food.

When there is no investment in community planning, communities fail to see a holistic picture in terms of the kind of damage that is happening to their environment.

A winning approach should evolve from focusing on community seed banks to protecting the whole ecosystem including micro-climates.

As communities protect their ecosystems, they become more resilient and enjoy the long-term benefits in a changing climate. Protecting ecosystems is also protecting the whole food system including wildlife. That can only be done through building community dialogues on preserving ecosystems and food systems.

Social investors can be persuaded to re-focus their investment as directed by communities and traditional leaders to say, “Any investment coming into the local community should promote indigenous food systems.

For instance, investment in water reservoirs, nutrition gardens or solar technology should have a bigger component supporting indigenous food systems.”

Bringing communities together so that they realise the value of preserving their ecosystems and food systems will anchor the development of commercial pathways around indigenous food so that farmers and communities earn income and create employment.

Community approaches to providing education and awareness should recognise existing knowledge and resources. That is how communities can be organised to be able to convert their resources into reliable economic drivers.

What is attracting farmers to industrial food at the cost of their environment is the need for money, income and survival. Communities and farmers value their natural resources but without means of survival, the motivation to preserve natural resources is compromised and weakened.

At the moment, most African community seed banks lack commercial and sustainability models because they have been set up in communities where demand is low as everyone has the seed.

Community dialogues and food festivals can be powerful advocacy pathways for protecting and recognising indigenous seed, the environment, food systems and ecosystems.

Such conversations are critical in correcting the wrong assumption that indigenous food systems and practices cannot feed Africa. What alternative food systems were considered in arriving at such conclusions? 

Charles Dhewa is a proactive knowledge broker and management specialist

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Six die in plane crash

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By Staff Reporter

A plane believed to be owned by Rio Zimbabwe, has reportedly crashed in Mashava this morning killing six people.

According to state media reports, the plane was  travelling from Harare to Zvishavane when it crashed.

It is also reported that it was going to transport diamonds but developed a technical fault before it plunged into Peter Farm in the Zvamahande area.

All passengers and crew allegedly died on the spot.

Unconfirmed reports state the plane might have exploded mid-air before hitting the ground.

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RioZim owner, five others die in plane crash

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By Staff Reporter

A plane believed to be owned by Rio Zimbabwe, crashed in Mashava this morning killing six people.

According to state media reports, the plane was  travelling from Harare to Zvishavane when it crashed.

It is also reported that it was going to transport diamonds but developed a technical fault before it plunged into Peter Farm in the Zvamahande area.

All passengers and crew died on the spot.

Unconfirmed reports state the plane might have exploded mid-air before hitting the ground.

Top journalist and filmmaker, Hopewell Chin’ono said some the deceased are Rio Zim owner Harpal Randhawa and his son.

“I am deeply saddened with the passing of Harpal Randhawa, the owner of Rio Zim who died today in a plane crash in Zvishavane.

“Five other people including his son who was also a pilot, but a passenger on this flight also died in the crash,” wrote Chin’ono on X.

Chin’ono said he first met Harpal in 2017 through a mutual friend and businessman, Kalaa Mpinga who owned Mwana Africa mines.

“Through him I met many people in the business, diplomatic, and political worlds.

“My thoughts are with his wife, family, friends and the Rio Zim community,” he added.

Rio Zim company secretary Gova said a full statement will be issued.

“I am not in a position to address the media right now. We will however be issuing a statement as soon as possible,” he said.

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Leveraging our own natural resources for development – NewsDay

Zimbabwe has operational mines already producing gold, nickel, platinum, coal, chrome and diamonds.

THE growth in global demand for lithium has led to an increasing number of new mining investments in Zimbabwe. Sabi Star mine became the latest lithium extraction operation to be commissioned by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in August.

It is reasonable to expect more capital to be assigned in that sector, as Zimbabwe is ranked as having the sixth-largest lithium deposits, worldwide.

The country is also at the threshold of Coal Bed Methane (CBM) extraction. A locally-owned entity named Alabara resources is reported to be establishing a new CBM mine, after feasibility studies proved the availability of commercial quantities of the resource.

Vast CBM resources are understood to be available in the Matabeleland North province of the country, particularly in Lupane, Gwayi and Hwange.

Around five more corporations are carrying out explorations in the province, with strong indications that, they too will be into commercial production before 2025.

On the other hand, Invictus Energy, an independent oil and gas company, is at advanced stages in the quest to prove the existence of oil and gas in the Cabora Bassa Basin.

A production sharing agreement was established as far back as January, 2021, with the framework on how the corporation and government will split the extracted oil between each other once discovered.

Apart from the possibility of new resources, Zimbabwe has operational mines already producing gold, nickel, platinum, coal, chrome and diamonds.

Government revenue from the extractive sector is mostly generated through royalties charged on the minerals, taxes and profit sharing, in the case where mining joint-ventures have been established between the government and private sector.

Since mineral resources are non-renewable, it is crucial for the government to establish a framework, which it will use in order to ensure that revenue from the extractive sector is utilised for economic diversification and development.

Additionally, the responsible management of funds gathered from the mining sector will permeate the creation of a resilient economy, which will be more impervious to external shocks. It will have more fiscal space to meet all budget requirements and transfer some of the mineral wealth to future generations through the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Zimbabwe.

Available channels for value creation

There are essentially three methods, which the government can use to link resource revenues to development. The methods are not exclusive, meaning that, they can be utilised as a combination.

Firstly, revenues from taxes, royalties and profit sharing may be used to finance the countries’ development agenda. If human development is a priority, then education, healthcare, provision of clean water and electricity, are likely to be the programmes of choice.

With transformational revenues, cash payments to either local communities where extraction is taking place, or to a considerable section of the country’s population, can be targeted.

Whereas, if public infrastructure or economic diversification are more urgent, then funds will be routed to those areas.

Secondly, the government can encourage “local content” policies, which promote the use of local suppliers in procurement and employment. In the case where local suppliers to the extractive sector need capacitation, revenues may be assigned towards their capacitation through investments in machinery, certifications, and other capital requirements.

For organisations, which employ locals, marginal tax concessions may be offered. It is crucial to outline that extractive projects, such as oil, gas and other minerals, characteristically take 10 or more years from exploration to significant or peak productivity.

For this reason, local procurement and employment frameworks will utilise much of the miners’ available funds, before significant production starts.

The exploration and construction phases will typically involve industrial-level procurement, specialised and general employees.

Thirdly, it has become the tradition that several extractive corporations provide local community investments in order to strengthen their “social capital” (local approval).

In some cases, companies establish roads, bridges, irrigation, schools or clinics. Government should encourage such developments wherever the corporations are operational. Collaborative effort between government and the miners is also desirable.

A case in point is when a company has enough funds to build a school or clinic but does not have the capacity or assurance that it will be able to pay recurring expenses such as  salaries.

In that regard, the company may build the infrastructure, whilst the government takes ownership of the recurring expenditures.

Defining development goals

At the outset, the government needs to set development goals, which it will to link to the inflows of natural resource revenues. This means that a predetermined portion of revenues from extractives will be directed to fund these goals. When there is clarity on the developmental targets, the connection between revenues and the development agenda is more direct and effective.

Measurability of the impact of resource revenues also becomes possible. The development targets may include spending the earned revenues on economic diversification, cash transfers, education, health, clean water, electricity, infrastructure, etc.

If the country is to achieve sustainable and robust growth, then resource revenues should be earmarked for economic diversification. A look at the experiences of Nigeria and Indonesia, describing how they invested their oil revenues, may provide pertinent lessons for Zimbabwe. When Nigeria began to experience significantly high oil revenues (1960- 1973) there were accompanying major forex inflows.

This led to a sharp appreciation of the local currency (naira).

Subsequently, agricultural and other exports, which were dependent on a relatively weaker naira, for their competitiveness, became more expensive in US dollar terms.

As a result, the agricultural sector suffered terribly, which drove the nation to be even more dependant on oil. On the other hand, in Indonesia, the oil and gas revenues were used to subsidise the agricultural sector through the provision of fertilisers, irrigation, roads and other rural infrastructure, where agricultural activity was concentrated.

The strengthening of the local currency, therefore, had limited impact on reducing the competitiveness of agricultural products in both the local and foreign markets.

Thus, farming thrived in Indonesia and continued to grow until it became a major agricultural nation, globally. From comparable starting points, before the discovery of oil, it eventually took Nigeria, until 2008, to reach the level of human development that Indonesia reached by 1980.

In the same manner, Treasury in Zimbabwe should focus on strengthening other sectors of the economy, such as export-agriculture, strategic manufacturing (niche or key products such as oxygen, textiles, tobacco processing, fertilisers), etc.

With regards to export-agriculture, funds may be availed for extension services, contract farming, transportation, storage and administration. This will increase forex-inflows and uphold both local employment and economic growth.

Unlike funding subsistence farmers, which drains fiscal revenues, yearly, export-oriented farming will yield income for both government and households, which preferably, should be rural-based.

The Sovereign Wealth Fund of Zimbabwe can drive these diversification programmes.

A portion of the revenues may be used to make cash transfers to local communities where the extraction of resources is occurring. This may be particularly desirable for peri-urban and rural areas, as the additional income will ignite economic activity in the isolated regions.

With substantive cash payments, the areas may become industrialised or contribute significantly towards reversing urbanisation and pressure on public services in the cities.

As an example, paying a monthly stipend of US$2 per each individual in the rural areas may have a direct cost to Treasury of US$22 million per month, or less.

Rural inhabitants are around 11 million; using an estimated country population of 16 million, according to the World Bank, with the rural portion making 67,4% of the figure.

If commodity revenues are transformational (major), the payments seem possible. Such disbursements may be exactly what it takes to spark burgeoning rural economies. With vigorous rural economies, Zimbabwe’s overall economic potential will be fully unlocked.

In 2022, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz), published a research document titled Beyond geographies of inequality: Public Education Financing in Post-Covid Zimbabwe.

The findings of the research were that 63% of rural pupils dropped out of school in 2022, and most of them are girls. The cost of education remains restrictive, especially to the less-affluent urban and rural residents.

A lack of reading and numeracy skills was also observed in rural pupils, with an incidence of 85% and 86%, respectively. Further, the educational infrastructure and quality of teachers is not up to par, whilst the lack of access to clean water and electricity do much to compound the experiences of students subject to rural education.

The impetuous challenges, which these circumstances will bring to the students and their communities, in the next few years, include poverty, unemployment, social isolation, inequality and underdevelopment.

If the government is keen on reversing or mitigating some of these challenges, then a portion of Treasury’s income from the extractive sector needs to be channelled to rural areas.

When there is fiscal capacity (extra revenue), this should be a priority area. Government spending may earmark, completely free education in those parts of the country.

Additionally, incentives such as free meals, books, and, or, uniforms, will motivate the pupils to complete their classes, at least from grade one, to Ordinary Level.

Leveraging resources in this manner will offer multiple direct and indirect benefits, including the reversal of urbanisation and subsequently, pressures on public services such as water, electricity and waste management in the cities.

Deepening investments in reliable electricity generation, provision of clean water and public infrastructure will also be viable designations of the resource revenues.

Managing risks and expectations

In some cases, the citizens may wrongly interpret that a discovery of new resources directly means that they are to immediately shift from poverty to wealth. Therefore, when there is no management of such expectations, there is bound to be discontent, which, in worst cases, may break into insurgency.

This has been the situation in the Niger delta, where local communities feel deprived of the region’s oil resources. Closer to Zimbabwe, armed-conflict broke out in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, on the same basis.

It is thus vital for government to convey the delays that should be expected by the public in enjoying the effects of new resource discoveries.

A number of risks also need to be managed, for the prudent administration of revenues. Chiefly, it is vital to resist spending revenues before they are earned. This can be done when a government borrows, with the target of using future income from the extractive sector, as a means to repay the borrowed amount.

In 2012, Zambia borrowed US$750 million to fund projects in energy and transportation, with the expectation that copper production would continue to drive economic growth.

However, just two years later, copper prices fell by 30% and the local currency (Kwacha) depreciated. Further, the country’s credit rating was downgraded, owing to concerns over its ability to service its growing public debt. Zambia is now on an IMF programme to resolve its debt overhang.

Since prices of commodities are volatile, it is judicious to forecast revenues based on average or lower price-levels. Using highest-possible prices in revenue forecasting is not advisable.

Additionally, for commodities with extremely volatile prices, revenues must not be committed towards recurring expenditures. Rather, once-off or capital investments are suitable in such cases. Ultimately, it is crucial for government to maintain policy consistency, from the time when exploration for resources commences to the construction of mines.

Without consistency in government policy, investments will be delayed or rerouted to other destinations, apart from Zimbabwe.


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