ZIMBABWE – The government of Zimbabwe has launched the Zimbabwe Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion project (ZIM-SHEP) which is expected to boost production in the sector.

According to a Herald report, the project will be sponsored by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and will be implemented in eight provinces over the next five years.

ZIM-SHEP is aimed at promoting market access and participation by small-scale farmers, help farmers develop technical and managerial capacity to practice market-oriented horticultural farming.

Douglas Karoro, Deputy Minister, Lands and Agriculture said the project will also address major challenges affecting the sector.

“This project has come at the appropriate time as Government endeavours on a decisive path to steer horticulture growth for both import substitution and enhancing exports,” he said.

“By targeting the smallholder farming sector which dominate horticulture production in Zimbabwe, ZIM-SHEP project speaks to the needs of the Zimbabwean farming community,” he said.

Among the major challenges identified include weak capacity of farmers’ groups; lack of skills for production and quality control, limited market access, unstable prices and underdeveloped market and market-related infrastructure in rural areas.

“Improvement of market access and promotion of market participation by small-scale farmers is an important poverty reduction measure.

Thus the coming in of ZIM-SHEP project will go a long way in achieving national develop priorities,” he added.

Minister Perence Shiri also hailed the assistance from the Japanese government which has also supported continental initiatives such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) pillar II which seeks to improve agricultural market access to enhance agricultural incomes.

“I am confident that ZIM-SHEP project will go a long way in meeting the set goals of the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP),” he said adding that so far the TSP initiative has positively impacted many farmers.

Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Toshiyuki Iwado said the potential of agriculture in Zimbabwe was one of the most vital measures for the country’s development.

“We have supported 15 agricultural projects around the country, including the project for construction of an agricultural training centre in Shurugwi in 2015 and the project for the improvement of farming skills in Gweru in 2012,” he said.

“I have special interest in SHEP because it involves assisting farmers with producing horticultural products and also connects them with the entire value chain so that they grow to sell.”

SHEP in Africa originated in Kenya and is now being implemented in 23 countries in Africa.