CHIPINGE – Hundreds of Chipinge farmers who depend on public transport to ferry their produce to different parts of the country are counting their losses after Government recently banned intercity travel under Covid19 level 4 lockdown.
The move is not only affecting the farmers but vendors throughout the country who depend on them for supplies.
Agricultural experts including Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) manager Dennis Chisevure told Chipinge Times that the problem is that farmers are operating as individuals. He called on the farmers to form associations and organize transport in groups so that it can be cheaper.
Farmers said the ban on intercity travel has devastated them because they used buses and kombis to ferry their produce from Chipinge to places as far as Plumtree, Bulawayo, Masvingo and Zvishavane. The ban abruptly stopped the movement of such produce as potatoes, sweet potatoes,madhumbe, avocados and bananas.
The farmers said that hiring lorries was not a viable alternative as they are being charged as much as US$400 between Chipinge and Bulawayo and this left them without profits.
The farmers also supplied many boarding schools, colleges and universities around the country and the closure has seen the market shrinking.
Chipinge is one of Zimbabwe’s wettest regions where horticultural produce is abundant and remain in production throughout the year. Chipinge therefore supplies the whole country with fruits and vegetables.
Checheche farmer, Panganai Sithole said he and many other farmers are stuck with perishable produce because of transport problems and limited trading hours which start at 8am to 330pm.
“We are failing to transport our produce like sweet potatoes, madhumbe, bananas to places like Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru. We are stuck with perishable produce and it is so painful to watch them rot. The boarding schools that we supply are also closed,” said Panganai.
Panganai said he used to make US $2000 per month from his farm produce and now barely makes US$500.
George Chikwanda, a farmer in Chipinge said 75% of his revenue is taken by transport costs if he hires a lorry to ferry his produce. For example, he said that at one time he got a truck to ferry US$500 worth of farm produce and was charged US$400 for transport and this left him with just US$100.
He said that the lockdown has seen his business dropping from US$500 revenue a week to US$200. Chikwanda produces sweet potatoes and green maize.
Vendors in various areas who rely on Chipinge farmers said business has been affected badly.
Livison Gushungo, a vendor in Plumtree said he is out of business because his not receiving supplies from Chipinge. He said that he got his supplies through busses that came from Chipinge. He said hiring trucks to deliver goods is of the question because the transport cost is exorbitant.
He said that his earnings had dropped from US$150 to US$30.
Munyaradzi Masavanyawo, a vendor in Bulawayo said that he barely can look after his family after the ban on intercity travel.
Chisevure encouraged farmers to come together and collectively organise their activities.
“The challenge in the current setup is that farmers are operating as individuals. Each farmer wants to take his or her produce alone to the market. We encourage farmers to work together in this lockdown, pull resources together, and be more organised. They can establish a transport system which is efficient and affordable,” said Chisevure.
Chipinge Agritex Officer Tapiwanashe Chagwesha said his department is giving farmers recommendations letters to travel but this is not helping because there is no transport.
The situation will only change after the covid -19 period is over.
“We give farmers recommendation letters to pass through roadblocks when they are on farming business but now it is of no use since there is no transport,” said Chagwesha.