Categories: Articles, NewsPublished On: 8th July 2024

Zimbabwe turns to Tajikistan for agriculture silver bullet

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Zimbabwe’s foray into international agricultural support has seen the country extending its courtship to unexpected destinations.

In June Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga was sent to Tajikistan to attend the Dushanbe Water Process’s third High-Level International Conference on International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development”. The Decade seeks improved water access for agricultural production between 2018 and 2028, with many developing
countries in the Global South struggling to put together infrastructure towards realising those goals.

The Zimbabwean delegation which included Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Vangelis Haritatos, used the occasion to meet with Tajikistani officials and discuss agriculture. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) says Tajikistan is the poorest country among the former Soviet republics.

IFAD does not paint a particularly encouraging picture about the former Soviet satellite’s agriculture sector. “Tajikistan agriculture comprises two broad farming systems: upland areas – characterised by wheat, potatoes and
horticulture along with rainfed pasture, while irrigated cotton and wheat dominate in lowlands. Despite its critical
importance, the agricultural resource base is characterised by limited arable land and a lack of investment in infrastructure, farm machinery and agricultural equipment,” IFAD notes.

“Livestock is a key part of the agriculture sector. However, the ability of livestock farmers to optimise the use of pastures is constrained by many problems, such as a lack of technical knowledge among small livestock holders, poor governance arrangements on pasture management, inefficient management of community livestock, shortage of feed during winter months, environmental degradation, and lack of access to good-quality fodder seed,” IFAD says, a picture that also reflects Zimbabwe’s own agriculture sector.

Deputy Minister Haritatos. (Source: Zimbabwe Situation)

Like Zimbabwe, more than 70 percent of people in Tajikistan live in the rural areas, with the agriculture sector contributing 20 percent of the central Asia country’s gross domestic product. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) says: “Tajikistan is highly vulnerable to food insecurity where more than 27 percent of the population live on less than $1,90 per day. “Before COVID-19, as many as 3,3 million Tajiks, or one-third of the total population, were estimated to be food insecure, and of those, 1,6 million are severely food insecure,” USAID notes in its most recent update.

While it remains unclear how Zimbabwe’s latest agriculture diplomacy will benefit the Southern African country,
officials from both countries were confident that the partnership will bear fruit. “We had a fruitful meeting with the Vice President of Zimbabwe,” said Qurbon Hakimzoda, the Tajikistan Agriculture Minister, last month after interaction with the Zimbabwe delegation.

“President Emomali Rahmon instructed that we explore this cooperation and make it work. We agreed that we need to establish a working group between the Tajikistan Ministry of Agriculture and the Zimbabwean Ministry of Agriculture to boost cooperation,” Qurbon is quoted saying.

It is not the first time Zimbabwe has cast its net far and looked further east for agriculture’s silver bullet, as it has
previously courted countries such as Belarus and Russia for both agro-finance loans, mechanisation of the agriculture sector and other technical support. Like many such excursions, the Tajikistan visit did not have publicly available specific government to government MoUs, save for reports from the Zimbabwe delegation that the meetings were “fruitful”.

“We have benefited tremendously from our presence here in Tajikistan. Our delegation has learnt so much,” Deputy Minister Haritatos told Zimbabwe’s state media.

“We came for the Water Conference and what we have seen is a tremendous amount of development in this country.
“We were fortunate to have many meetings with top government officials. We met with President Rahmon, Prime
Minister Qohir Rasulzoda, the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Energy,” Haritatos said. “In each interaction there were a lot of questions asked, there is a lot we can learn from this beautiful country. Just like Tajikistan, we have rich soils and we now need to harness water, funding and technologies to boost production. We came here for the Water Conference but we are going back much richer. The conference was a great success and we benefited more beyond the conference,” he added. In the aftermath of this year’s poor grain harvest, Zimbabwe is upping its efforts to seek ways to cushion the country from erratic rainfall.

The Tajikistan water conference was seen as a learning working visit on how best Zimbabwe, already reeling under
poor water infrastructure that has compromised agriculture production, can derive best practices from other countries. It remains to be seen how Zimbabwe will translate those kinds of interactions into turning around the agriculture sector, with critics noting the stalled increase of food production in the past few years despite accelerating its Look East policy.

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