Zim farming season under threat

HARARE - Zimbabwe's prospects of a good farming season might be in jeopardy following revelations that part of government’s $160 million inputs are yet to reach the intended farmers, while rains continue to be elusive in some parts of the country.

Despite years of declining agriculture output due to persistent droughts and lack of inputs, government had struck the right chord this year by ensuring that most rural households have access inputs.

However, information on the ground indicates that the country could be headed for another disastrous farming season as most farmers are yet to receive the government-initiated inputs, while banks, which are battling a biting liquidity crunch, remain reluctant to lend to farmers without title.

Recently, local banks asked the government to come up with a special purpose fund that would guarantee loans taken by farmers from banks in order to boost agriculture production.

George Guvamatanga, the Bankers Association of Zimbabwe president last month told Parliament that the 99-year leases being issued to resettled farmers by government were not bankable.

Agriculture experts assert that financing the sector has become a challenge owing to small-scale farmers’ poor record of repaying debts.

“It will be difficult for any financial institution to extend credit lines to farmers without any form of collateral. Most of these rural farmers are well-known for not repaying their debts,” said Elia Majoni, an independent agronomist.

He noted that government should prepare for another drought year following the erratic rainfall patterns being experienced in the country.

“From the way things are looking we maybe headed for disaster. The rains are late and the country should start putting some funds aside for the procurement of maize to avert hunger that is imminent,” he said.
This comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that at least two million people will need food aid at the peak of the hunger season.

To worsen the situation some small-scale and communal farmers say they are failing to access inputs under the State-sponsored agricultural scheme.

“We have heard about the scheme but we are yet to get anything,” said Joseph Munjodzi, a maize farmer in the Mudzi area of Mutoko.

In the sweltering heat of the Mashonaland East province, most farmers were by end of December yet to put anything under the ground, as they were still waiting for the inputs as well as the rains.

The country has been experiencing a significant decline in agriculture — the mainstay of the economy — since the year 2000 mainly because of the political situation in the country which triggered uncertainty over property rights after the land reform programme.

Most of the country’s 4 000 white farmers, then the backbone of the country’s agricultural economy, were evicted from their land, which was handed over to about a million black Zimbabweans.

Shortly afterwards, Western nations imposed targeted sanctions on the ruling elite and companies linked to them following what they termed a breakdown in rule of law and abuse of human rights, but Zimbabwean authorities routinely blame these for the problems that the country faces.

At its peak agriculture contributed to as much as 30 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

From the year 2000 to date, production of maize declined 79 percent, wheat 90 percent, soya beans 66 percent, citrus 50 percent, fresh produce 61 percent, dairy 59 percent, beef 67 percent, coffee 92 percent and tea 40 percent, according to the WFP.

Only tobacco, a major foreign currency generator, has rebounded markedly in the last year from a nearly 80 percent decline.

Economic experts blame the land redressing exercise for triggering Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in history characterised by runaway inflation and foreign currency shortages that resulted in the trapping of foreign capital which could not be repatriated due to the hard currency woes.

Farming organisations on the other hand have attributed the decline in hectarage to a combination of factors, among them, lack of agricultural support by the government and financial institutions as well as lack of security of tenure resulting in farmers failing to access private funds.

The Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), a mainly white farmer organisation says absence of security of tenure on land has made indigenous small-scale farmers in the country to become corporate slaves.

Charles Taffs, CFU president says the newly-resettled farmers were not able to use the inherent value in their land to get funding because they had no collateral over it to be able to borrow from banks.

The farmers were given the land by government on the basis of 99-year leases and depend mainly on government and donors for inputs and other farming requirements.

Taffs said this had led farmers to shift focus from the traditional diversified farming to areas that are funded by the corporate world such as tobacco production.

“Government must come up with a comprehensive land policy that puts value of land into the hands of the farmer not the current scenario where it is in government’s hands,” he said.

“It exposes small-scale farmers to the vagaries of corporatism where they are squeezed and enslaved by companies because if you have a guy who is funding you, buying from you and at the same time processing your produce you are not going to see prices that we have been seeing in the past decade or so.

“There is no option for the farmer even if the prices are not reasonable and the farmers will inevitably be pushed out of business,” said Taffs.

The CFU boss also said security of tenure is paramount in creating investor confidence as well as enabling farmers to get funding using the traditional lines opposed to dependency on government and donors.

He said the special purpose vehicle would enable government to act to repossess land from defaulters instead of banks selling the land on the open market.

Although the meteorological department has forecasted average to normal rainfall in the current farming season, fertiliser shortages are also threatening Zimbabwe’s prospect of a bumper harvest.

Fertiliser manufacturer Sable Chemicals has indicated that it requires over $50 million for procurement of raw materials and uninterrupted production of the fertiliser needed for the 2013/14 agriculture season.

The company has however, said it would not be able to meet its full production capacity of 240 000 tonnes of fertiliser, due to funding constraints and  will only be able to produce 70 000 tonnes this year.

Zimbabwe needs a total 150 000 tonnes of AN and a similar tonnage of compound D fertiliser for the current farming season.

With the farming season almost in disarray due to shortage of crucial agricultural inputs, there is little hope that the nation of over 12 million people will produce enough food in the current agricultural season.

Comments (2)

We know that you were praying for another drought but sorry comrade. This time around even in Mat North and South they have received rains. As for the inputs you are talking about these are for the elderly. How can a farmer wait for a 10kg bag of seed and a 50kg bag of fertiliser. Gore rino vanhu vakarima. I dont know where you are writing from!

godfrey gudo - 14 January 2014

John Kachembere kane pfungwa dzekachembere. Part of your regime-change wish that there be drought in Zimbabwe so that the people can blame the drought on ZANU PF rule. Chimbwasungata chisina nyadzi.

Rwizi - 14 January 2014

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