'No more free agric inputs handouts'

MASVINGO - Poor communal farmers could be headed for a tough time in the next agricultural season after government announced that it has scrapped issuing of free inputs hand outs such as seed and fertilizers.

Addressing journalists on the sidelines of a field day at Topora Business Centre on Thursday, deputy minister, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation responsible for cropping, Davis Marapira said the move was with immediate effect.

Marapira said the move by government was designed to end the dependency syndrome in the country, but the development could have a drastic impact on the already hard-pressed villagers in the countryside who cannot afford the high prices of inputs.

The development also comes at a time when several districts in the country are deemed to be food insecure.

The United Nations World Food Programme states that at least 2,2 million people are in need of food aid with the majority being in rural areas.

“The days of farmers getting free inputs are over. We have resolved as government that starting from this season, 2014 to 2015 farmers will no longer be getting free inputs for agriculture.

“This was done to stop the issue of dependency in the country,” said Marapira.

The scraping of the government input support scheme comes at a time the economic situation is deteriorating and could impact negatively on the national agricultural output next year as thousands of rural farmers across the country can hardly afford to buy adequate inputs.

Marapira however, urged rural farmers to start preparing for the next agricultural season by purchasing inputs now.

“I, therefore, urge rural farmers to start buying inputs, seeds and fertiliser now to start preparing for the season because they won’t be any help to them from government this year,” he added.

He said government had realised that it would be better to subsidise inputs at manufacturing companies than to give free hand-outs to villagers.

Last year, the government rolled out a $161 million input scheme that assisted hard-pressed villagers and resulted in a better agricultural season compared to the previous years.

The deputy minister however, allayed fears that the programme would also affect the presidential input scheme saying it was a personal programme by President Robert Mugabe and it was his prerogative to make such a decision.

“The presidential scheme is not affected because it’s not a government programme but a personal thing by his Excellency and he is the one who decides when to stop or continue with it.

“Here we are talking about the government scheme run by the Agriculture ministry and that is what has been stopped,” he added. The presidential scheme has in the past been marred by controversy as opposition party members seldom benefit from the 90-year-old leader’s benevolence.

Some opposition parties have even castigated Mugabe and his party for sidelining their supporters using the scheme which is supposed to benefit the nation at large — as nothing short of a vote-buying tool.

Analysts have predicted a disaster following government’s decision to scrape the scheme, saying it would impact negatively on food security in the country.

Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector has not performed well since the chaotic land reform programme in 2000 which saw at least 4 500 white commercial farmers lose their land to new black farmers.

The country once referred to as the continent’s bread basket now relies on food imports to feed it 13 million citizens.

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