'Command Agric should benefit all'

HARARE - Government needs to do more to improve Command Agriculture implementation by involving the rural population, hence make it national because the current programme seemed to have benefited Mashonaland provinces only, Senators have said.

Debating a report by thematic committee on Peace and Security on the preparedness of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), Senators also pointed out that Command Agriculture has many loopholes which affected its smooth implementation.

“The rural folk in this country knows nothing about Command Agriculture. They have not been included at all and at the same time, they produce more than the commercial farmer.

“The rural peasant farmer produces more that the commercial in this country and they have not been included in this.

“By inclusion, I mean teams should have been sent out to educate them, to encourage them and to show them the benefits and disadvantages of Command Agriculture,” MDC Masvingo senator Misheck Marava said.

“Nothing of that sort was done and here we are talking of those who own thousands of hectares and got hundreds of tractors.

“It is obvious that having been armed with such instruments, definitely you have to produce. Our country’s population, 70 percent is rural-based and not commercial-based.

“Command Agriculture, sweet as it sounds, good as it is seen, must be national — it is not supposed to be regional. The way we look at it right now at this experimental stage, it is just regional; we are just talking of Command Agriculture in Mashonaland, nothing in Matabeleland, nothing in Masvingo and nothing in Midlands.

“So please, let it be national and not regional because it is a good thing and we are all nationals and we like it,” Marava added.

MDC senator for Harare James Makore said the government must first equip farmers with skills.

“The other challenge farmers faced was that they did not have the skills. They were also not getting adequate financial support from the banks. This challenge resulted in the shortage of inputs.

“We want to thank the Command Agriculture project that injected $500 million to alleviate the burden of the shortages that farmers previously faced in terms of inputs.

“We also want to challenge those who benefited to pay back the loans so that it becomes a revolving fund. If it does not revolve, it will affect production.”

Last year, government launched Command Agriculture to help the country regain its breadbasket status, after ruinous land reforms hurriedly instituted ahead of the 2000 elections reduced Zimbabwe to a basket case.

At its launch last year, the project was estimated to be worth US$500 million and involved the procurement and distribution of key agricultural inputs to about 2 000 farmers selected for the programme.

MDC senator for Midlands province Lilian Timveos, who is a member of the thematic committee on Peace and Security, said farmers are also facing challenges transporting their maize to GMB.

“Let us look at the challenges that we have faced and go back to the drawing board and see where we can improve in terms of the success of the Command Agriculture.

“Insurance is good in the sense that even the farmer who has lost out due to natural disasters can be able to pay back the loan and get something to ensure that the next farming season he can continue engaging in farming activities.

“There was an issue of double-dipping. There was a lady who emphasised on the issue of transparency and having books in order to curb this issue of double-dipping.

“This will also help reduce corruption because Command Agriculture is a good project but to be honest; this is a success and makes us proud really.

“As a government, we should put systems in place that protect the government and the farmers as well.

Senator Chief Chiduku also weighed in saying the government must avail inputs on time next season.

“We are requesting that in the next farming season, the government should avail inputs in time and that people should be given the seed that they prefer.

“In other areas, we also realised that some could not get chemicals that destroy the weed and they ended up going into fields to cultivate in order to remove the weed. We need those chemicals.

“It has been said before that some people were getting seeds that were not suited to their regions. People just accepted as they had been given but they were very clear that some of the seed was not proper for their regions.

“If we plant sorghum or millet, it would be better because these are good and healthy crops. Different hotels are now serving sorghum and millet. Therefore, it is important that we do not only focus on maize, but that there are different crops that are looked into.”

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