Agriculture is still considered the mainstay of the economy as was pointed out by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in his inaugural address in November 2017. Zimbabwe is approximately 39 million hectares big with 16 million hectares of those being under agriculture. Last year the agricultural sector contributed approximately 10.46% to the GDP, however, the sector has the capacity to contribute as much as 16% to 20% to the GDP. At its optimum it can generate as much as 40% of total export earnings, whilst sustaining the lives of at least 67% of the population.
Though there are numerous factors that influence the performance of the sector, today I shall dwell on 10 business mistakes that most farmers make. It is evident from statistics alluded to earlier that farming is paramount for the Zimbabwean economy and as such highlighting those mistakes is critically important.
1. Not treating farming as a business
This might sound ludicrous but most farmers don’t treat their farming initiatives as a business. They don’t subscribe to business procedures and practices that ultimately lead to enhanced productivity & profitability. Farmers who do this are oblivious of or don’t ascribe significant attention to aspects such as market surveys, feasibility studies, root cause analyses, marketing, advertising, branding etc., all of which are aspects that are central to running a business.
2. Holding on to individualistic ideologies
Most farmers are too engrossed in heightened senses of entitlement such that they operate as islands. They believe that in order to be productive and the best they must do things on their own without collaborating with other farmers. They shun teamwork or partnerships as they deem them as threats to their quest for dominance. They don’t realize that teamwork or engaging in partnerships can significantly slash operational costs, present unforeseen opportunities & address issues of financial constraints.
3. Not giving due attention to climate & weather patterns
Both the climate and weather patterns in Zimbabwe have been going through unpredictable changes. Most farmers still operate based on past patterns from when the climate and weather patterns were more stable and predictable. Now more than ever, farmers need to bring themselves up to speed on the prevailing climate and weather profiles of their respective localities. This will nullify the widespread mistake of focusing on crops & farming methods that aren’t abreast with the changes indicated above. Most farmers are producing mediocre or paltry yields due to turning a blind eye to the ever changing patterns of our climate & weather.
4. Treating human resources as expendable entities
Most farmers don’t value enough the importance of satisfying worker welfares and optimizing their work schedules & environments. On average, farm workers earn between $75 & $150/month in Zimbabwe and this has been labelled a slave wage due to how low it is, whilst some even go unpaid. Over and above that, most farm workers aren’t provided with protective clothing, proper accommodation & health cover. They also work in excess of 12 hours a day. Due to high unemployment levels, farm owners capitalize on that and don’t value their workers because they know that it’s so easy to replace workers who opt out. Retention of human capital is pivotal to the success of a business because productivity, creativity & innovation are borne out of workers privy to the intricacies of a business over long periods.
5. Adversely constricting operational budgets
This stems from the working principle of wanting to keep costs at the lowest possible. However, if a balance isn’t struck, extreme cost cutting ends up sabotaging the capacity to produce good results. While it is frugal & expedient to limit costs incurred, it should be appreciated that quality is relatively expensive to attain and maintain. Farmers shouldn’t uphold cost cutting at the expense of making an investment that guarantees bumper & high-quality yields.
6. Lack of systematic monitoring & evaluation
Distractions which give a sense of busyness rather than productiveness tend to be prioritized at the expense of tasks that actually matter. Thus, farmers shouldn’t ignore putting in place monitoring & evaluation mechanisms that ensure credible evidence-based data/information is available to inform decision-making processes. Farming entails operating in a rapidly changing environment, therefore it is suicidal to do things spontaneously without proper due diligence.
7. Limited or no investment in business management skills development
Some farmers are excellent at farming but poor at business management. The grave misconception that most farmers have is that they are jacks of all trades i.e. they can do everything themselves. Business management is an art form that needs to be learnt, so considerable efforts should be put into attaining those skills. This can be achieved by enrolling for training programs or with academic institutions. Alternatively, this can also be achieved by putting oneself under the mentorship of other well-established & reputable farmers.
8. Disregard for intellectual property
Hiring of qualified, skilled and specialized personnel shouldn’t be trivialized; it’s important to leverage on expert knowledge & judgement. However, most farmers poorly invest in the hiring or outsourcing of experts in their farming operations. This compromises the volumes & quality of yields produced in the end.
Most farmers think short term and have limited visibility of where they are heading to. Strategic planning is key to maximizing efficiency, effectiveness & productivity. The old adage “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” still holds true today and to farmers in particular. Mostly farmers don’t draft strategic plans and business plans for their farming operations. One wonders how they can then properly monitor & evaluate in the absence of those plans. This means most farmers have limited capacity to anticipate and prepare for unforeseen circumstances.
10. Disproportionately mixing business & politics
The two, obviously are mutually exclusive but business is empirical whilst politics is mostly theoretical. If farmers get too involved or allow politics to gain undue ascendancy, business operations can be adversely affected. Politics & business can be healthily symbiotic if both managed properly. Sadly, most farmers overly uphold political interests at the expense of business integrity.