President Emmerson Mnangagwa has challenged the private sector to increase its role in agriculture financing through backward and forward linkages to enhance productivity challenges faced in the sector.

The President was speaking at the official opening of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) Conference in Victoria Falls today.

He said countries must thrive to utilise comparative advantages in agriculture for a greater stake in the global agricultural trade adding Zimbabwe through the successful Command Agriculture Programme is now an example of how the private sector is an essential component in the transformation of the sector.

The  SACAU annual conference has been officially opened in the resort town with concerns that countries in the continent are spending between US$30 billion and $50 billion annually on imports of agricultural products, instead of developing productive capacities which are necessary for trade.

President Mnangagwa said in light of the situation, there is a need for African countries to invest heavily in agriculture to produce what meets the needs of the continent.

Research and development on appropriate technology, new farming methods, post harvest management methods, seed variety development and proper land use systems are some of the key areas to focus on if the region is to see an improvement in agricultural production.

Farmers in the continent are also exporting primary agricultural products and getting very little in return due to poor and in some cases non-existent facilities for value addition.

The President said at regional level SADC has  prioritised food availability and access as well as review and harmonisation of its policies on agriculture and natural resources, hence the proposed SADC Regional Agricultural Policy which intends to develop a legally binding instrument to stimulate the sector as well as food security.

“In this regard, your role as farmers unions is integral because you are a vital link between the farmers and decision makers, as well as between the producers and the markets. I am thus confident that your advocacy and insights for better agricultural policies and the promotion of productivity will be useful and handy as we seek sustainable growth of this sector both in our region and the continent at large,” said President Mnangagwa.

President Mnangagwa feels the continent has a high percentage of arable land which should be harnessed to drive economic growth, stimulate development and improve food security.

“In that vein, I encourage our countries, through you, our farmer organisations, to utilise water resources, tropical and sub-tropical climates that allow long and multiple growing seasons to transform agriculture in the region.

“I equally exhort farmers to renew and accelerate investments towards irrigation development as well as technologies in the efficient and effective utilisation of water to increase agricultural productivity and mitigate the ever growing challenges of climate change,” he added.

The conference is aimed at creating an opportunity for the leadership of farmers’ organisations in Southern Africa to better understand the rules, regulations and key processes within which trade happens between countries, at regional, continental and global level.