Blessing Rwizi Post Correspondent
MAUNGANIDZE Irrigation Scheme tomato farmers in Chimanimani District have appealed to development partners to assist them in securing a more profitable bulk-market for their tomatoes.
This plea comes ahead of the harvesting of 50 hectres of tomatoes to commence at the end of this month. Tomato farming has been the back-bone of Maunganidze community ever since the establishment of the irrigation scheme in 1997.
Big fruit processing companies flocked the scheme to buy the fruit over the past years.
Maunganidze has been ranked the best tomato producing scheme in Zimbabwe, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development. In 2006, the farmers produced 270 tonnes that filled 17-thirty-tonne trucks to Best Fruit Processors (BFP) in Norton.
Due to the cash crisis that has hit the country over the recent months, BFP company has stopped buying tomatoes from the scheme.
A company official said they had resorted to buying tomatoes from producers within the 140km radius from the processing plant to reduce costs.
Maunganidze is more than 300km from Norton.
Speaking to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, Mr David Phiri during his tour of the scheme last week, Maunganidze Irrigation Scheme chairperson, Mr Elias Ziwenjere, said middlemen were coming to buy the fruit in very low quantities and at low prices.
“Last year we sold our tomatoes in bulk to Best Fruit Processors from Norton and the prices were very reasonable and fair. We only realised that they were no longer coming to get the fruit this year after having planted the crop. Lack of bulk markets leave us at very big disadvantage.
“Middlemen come to buy in low quantities at very low prices which leave us with insufficient funds to buy inputs in preparation for the next season. Also larger amounts of tomatoes putrefy in the fields, leaving us incurring losses,” said Mr Ziwenjere.
“We are appealing to Government and other development partners to secure bulk markets for our fruit so that things get back to normal and change our livelihoods,” he added.
Mr Phiri advised Maunganidze farmers never to lose hope.
“I understand that there are a number of challenges that the scheme has been facing, but I am glad that people in this area never allowed it to be dysfunctional.
“FAO has heard the market problem and it will take time to find solutions and engage other development partners. I am glad that farmers in this area see farming as a business and I want to urge all of you to soldier on,” he said.
Maunganidze Irrigation Scheme has 84 plot holders with each farmer occupying 0.8 hectares.
FAO came to their rescue in 2014 and rehabilitated toilets, canals and water pumps among other things, under the European Union (EU) funded National Irrigation Rehabilitation Framework (NIRF) project that aimed at supporting 80 irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe.