How can farmers know the value of their land and related resources?
The value of Zimbabwe’s natural resources such as land, water and minerals is still informed by assessments and valuations done by white settlers way back in the 1900s. For instance, the identification of the country’s five natural farming regions as well as the demarcations of farms, soils, dam sites and other resources originated from that period to become the basis for valuing the whole country. Unfortunately, most of the new farmers do not have sufficient history about the land they are occupying. Previous farmers had all this knowledge which they used for production planning. New classifications such as A1, A2 and large scale have not been informed by solid knowledge about detailed characteristics of those pieces of land. As a result, the true value of the land is yet to be adequately ascertained at an individual farmer level or community level.
Should farmers measure the value of the land based on yield alone?
Toward purposeful valuation
As part of unlocking the authentic value of pieces of land on which the majority of farmers eke a living, a re-assessment and revaluation effort is badly needed. If 1000 hectares have been partitioned to accommodate more than 100 farmers, the same farm no longer has the same value it had when it was owned by one farmer. The land has to be re-valued towards tailor-making production practices. Some smallholder farmers have embraced tobacco and cotton production on the strengths of capacity building around planting, grading, harvesting and packaging. However, this kind of knowledge structure is lacking in other sectors like horticulture to which farmers are migrating from field crops. While a farmer can estimate tobacco yields per hectare, such knowledge is lacking in horticulture or livestock. It is difficult for smallholder livestock farmers to estimate the amount of beef they can obtain per given pastures.
Some of the vexing questions for farmers include: If a farmer is to transition from tobacco to horticulture on the same land, what processes and procedures does the farmer need to be supported on? Such a question can only be answered successfully through valuation of available resources – water, soil, roads, water bowsers, tractors, dip tanks, boreholes, pastures, workshops and the general environment. Basically both man-made and natural resources have to be assessed. Re-purposing land from tobacco to horticulture requires expertise. Regarding pastures, if a farmer sets aside four hectares for crops and two hectares for pastures, how does s/he know the quality of pastures in those two hectares reserved for livestock? The previous farmer may not have cared about livestock but the new farmer has to combine crops and livestock for draught power. This automatically changes land use patterns and calls for valuation.
Valuation is equal if not more important than siting a water source or setting up an irrigation system. After valuation, siting of all these other assets becomes very easy. In fact, valuation should inform siting and production. It’s no longer enough to own a piece of land. Becoming aware of soil pH calls for interventions that suit different types of production.
Role of the market
Valuation should be informed by a business mind-set and this is where the market becomes important. How best can a farmer use valuation results to generate income from the market? For any given market-oriented production calendar, farmers should adjust resources to suit those calendars. If a farmer finds green mealies doing very well from August to December, it means s/he has to adjust soil quality, water availability and other inputs to get the best results. The same applies with potatoes, tomatoes and other crops. A farmer can juggle five to ten crops using valuation results.
How this extends to livestock production
The same valuation process can be extended to livestock production. Farmers can valuate resources that are key to livestock production. It is important to start with what is available. For instance, types of water reservoirs and their carrying capacity. A farmer should try to know the history of the dam and measure water levels from summer to summer. It is also important to assess pastures in terms of grasses naturally growing in the farm and how long the grasses can sustain livestock. Livestock should not be left to natural phenomena. Livestock production has to be properly planned the way farmers plan their crop production. It is easier to plan for small stock because most of the feed can be produced on-farm.
Every farmer needs a cost benefit analysis. What is the opportunity cost of growing maize on one hectare and selling maize to the market or feeding the maize to pigs and selling the pigs? We have to get the best value from a piece of land and this is seen by the best project it can support. How best can you utilize soil and water to get the best returns? Soil and water are the main resources for every farmer. If you are given a piece of land and a certain amount of water, which crop will you grow that will give you the best returns out of the two natural resources? Valuation informs your production strategy especially from the market. For any given piece of land, is tobacco the best crop that gives the highest returns from all other suitable crops in the same climate? This is a key valuation question whose answer can open farmers’ eyes to other options.
Community valuation should be done in a participatory manner, separating subsistence (livelihood) from the market component designed to generate income. Some communities keep more than 1000 cattle in one area. It’s important to know how much water resources and pastures are needed for these cattle and other livestock. Farmers can also discover that it’s better to use the water for horticulture than for many livestock. Where they are struggling to grow crops, they can also realize that it’s more ideal to turn the land into pastures. A crop production mind set has seen many communities turning pastures into fields yet more land could be usefully reserved for pastures.
Evidence from valuation can convince farmers to convert their land to pastures. This can support horticulture through manure and ox-drawn water supply to irrigate gardens and irrigation schemes. Valuation can provide comparative analysis between crops and livestock or both. The comparison can be crop to crop, crop versus livestock, field crop versus horticulture or cash crop versus staple crop. Is banana the best crop in Honde Valley? Is tomato the best crop in Mutoko? If small grains do well in Tsholotsho, are these the best crops or we have to explore the potential of other crops?
Is knowledge about our five natural regions still valid in a changing climate?
Zimbabwe’s five natural farming regions were drawn out based on valuation. Unfortunately, we have not conducted any other valuation to see if the same characteristics still hold. Perhaps we now have ten natural regions or less. Or due to climate change, natural regions four and five now have the same characteristics. How do we explain the fact that over the past few seasons, Masvingo and some areas of Matebeleland have received early rains ahead of natural regions two and three? Valuation can show us micro climates that have emerged due to climate change as well as sub-regions that are emerging in natural region 1. We can’t continue using knowledge generated hundred years ago.
The same way farmers invest in inputs should see them investing in technical services like valuation of resources. If a farmer can invest in equipment like tractors, trucks and livestock breeds, s/he needs tailor-made technical services in order to get the best from total investment. If farming is to become a real business, we need to give responsibilities to farmers rather than continue spoon-feeding them.
In the interest of helping farmers and other value chain actors to build a strong agricultural knowledge foundation, eMKambo has developed an agricultural valuation toolkit based on insights from diverse experts. Every serious farmer requires knowledge from the following sets of expertise: (a) soil and water testing; (b) water reservoir assessments ( how much water in a given period?); (c) irrigation design expertise; (d) land design expertise (cartography including use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)); (e) livestock pasture assessment expertise; and, (e) economics and market expertise. Intelligence from the market enables a farmer to adjust production according to the market while matching soil pH, water, pastures and land size to available resources.
The valuation toolkit generates a strategic document which a farmer can use for the next three to five years. Like any other business, farming requires a strategic document. At the moment, most farmers are not basing their agriculture production plans on thorough valuation. As a result there is so much missing of targets. A strategic document can be collateral acceptable to banks.
If this conversation makes sense to you, please send us an email or give us a call so that we can assist you in developing a valuation framework for your agricultural enterprise.
eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6