HARARE – Agricultural experts say the initiative taken by government to unveil inputs to small-scale farmers will help in averting hunger in the country.
Elia Majoni, a senior agronomist with Farm Capital Ventures, said preparations for the 2013/2014 farming season were progressing well across most provinces in the country.
“However, government must ensure that it delivers all the inputs promised to farmers on time if we are to avoid being caught offside because the season is already underway now,” he said.
With more than 2,2 million people in need of food aid, Zimbabwe last month announced that it had sourced about $1 billion from a variety of bodies to fund the 2013/14 agriculture season.
The government said it wants to ensure that Zimbabwe becomes self-reliant again, as was the case for about two decades after independence in 1980.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, who launched the $161 million agriculture input support scheme, said each household will be given 50kg of Compound D and 50kg of ammonium nitrate (AN) fertiliser, as well as 50kg of lime and 10kg maize seed pack under scheme.
“This demonstrates our commitment to agriculture as this is the backbone which will trigger economic growth. Everything else should rotate within agriculture, we believe in establishing linkages with every other sector,” he said.
The country, once regarded as the breadbasket of Africa, has been struggling to feed its own people since President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party embarked on a controversial land reform programme that displaced
4 000 commercial farmers.
David Phiri, head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation highlighted that Zimbabwe’s perennial food shortages must not be allowed to continue.
“I think the Zimbabwean government has shown that it has political will.
“They have been focusing on agriculture and political will than any other thing,” he said.
FAO assistant programme representative, David Mfote, however, noted that the lack of robust extension services, lack of credit, and the high cost of inputs were hampering the country’s efforts to address food insecurity.
He also noted that Zimbabwe could do better by reviving its irrigation schemes which were financed by international institutions that are no longer lending money to Zimbabwe.
According to Mfote, Zimbabwe has a potential to produce 1,6 million tonnes of maize yet it is only producing about 800 000 tonnes which is not enough to meet national demand.
With poverty levels significantly increasing in the southern African nation, the input support scheme by government is expected to boost food production.
According to the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (Zimstat), the overall poverty rate has reached a record high of 63 percent with Zimbabwe’s estimated population of 13 million vastly classified as poor and 16 percent living in extreme poverty.
Trapping the majority of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people in poverty is lack of quality employment, low total productivity in both agriculture and general economy, nagging health issues.
A snap survey conducted by Daily News last week revealed most supermarkets and retail outlets have started selling maize seeds at an average of $23 per 10kg, most seed houses in Zimbabwe have indicated there is enough seed to the extent of 52 000 metric tonnes in warehouses.
The price is way above the reach of many who live on less than $2 a day.
Following the small-scale farmers’ failure to repay debts in previous seasons, most financial institutions in the country are now insisting on collateral and are not accepting 99-year leases and offer letters as security to allow farmers to access the $720 million agriculture support facility.
Abdul Nyathi, the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) vice president recently said his organisation was engaging banks on the issue.
“We are currently engaging banks on how best we can access the funding. We have come up with a plan of group lending and some banks have accepted the arrangement,” he said.
Nyathi said conditions set by banks were so stringent that very few farmers would access the cash.
“For the past years, banks have been availing funds for agricultural support with only few farmers getting the money because of these measures. We are negotiating with banks so that we agree on terms of lending,” he said.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) vice president Johnson Mapira said most farmers did not have the required collateral security.
“Some farmers do not have houses which can be used as collateral. Banks should consider other forms of property as security,” he said.
Other farmers suggested banks should consider livestock and farm machinery such as tractors and implements as collateral.
David Marapira, deputy minister of Agriculture, responsible for crops, Mechanisation and Irrigation, said he would meet banks to map the way forward.
“I am going to have a meeting with the banking sector soon to see how we can assist farmers this season. Few farmers are accessing money from banks since the majority cannot meet the banks’ requirements,” he said.