Way forward for Zimbabwe agriculture

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THE 2016/2017 cropping season, almost at its tail-end, is no different from the previous seasons which were punctuated by the usual outcries of lack of funds to ensure maximum production.
Lack of cheaper finance to procure inputs and the prevailing liquidity constraints are drawing back crop production.
As if that is not enough, shifting rainfall patterns have also negatively affected crop production.
Most parts of the country received first rains late November before a dry spell ensued in December.
Rains were later received in February.
Crops planted with the first rains were affected by the dry spell as they wilted, with some destroyed completely.
Since Government embarked on the Land Reform Programme in 2000, efforts continue to be made by resettled farmers to produce enough grain to meet annual requirements and increase production of cash crops.
The country requires two million metric tonnes of grain to meet its annual requirements.
However, the efforts are being hampered by the changing rainfall patterns and lack of resources.
In the past, Government has initiated programmes such as the Irrigation Development and Rehabilitation Scheme, Farm Mechanisation Programme and the Presidential Well Wishers’ Special Agricultural Inputs Scheme to assist farmers.
Command Agriculture, a Government-spearheaded programme, has been critical in boosting food security.
Under the programme, Government targets to produce two million tonnes under 400 000 hectares.
Last month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the programme had, this season, been ‘sabotaged’ as farmers received inputs late.
Critics have labelled resettled farmers ‘cry babies’ who are always looking for hand-outs from Government and are not able to sustain themselves.
Those against the Land Reform Programme tend to compare the resettled farmers who have been on the farms for only 18 years to white farmers who only began to make profits after more than 40 years on the land.
White farmers, especially during the early days, received massive support from their Government which poured money onto their farms.
The then Land Bank, now the AGRIBANK, increased loans and there was a three-year suspension on all repayments.
The white farmers were given loans worth $12 000 per farm per year which is equivalent to US$40 000 today.
But have the resettled farmers come to a point where they should be weaned off from any form of support, be it from Government or the private sector?
Presenting a paper during a meeting between President Mnangagwa and captains of industry last week, Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Wonder Chabikwa highlighted that with adequate financial support the sector was poised for growth.
“Farmers should be able to access low-cost and long-term financing and efficient markets if they are to thrive,” he said.
“Institutions such as the Agribank used to issue out loans with an interest rate of not more than four percent and these were reasonable unlike what is being charged by commercial banks.
“With these kinds of institutions (AGRIBANK) in place, farmers can access loans which will help them re-tool and improve production.” Chabikwa commended Government for finalising the issue of 99-year leases.
“We are yet to put them (99-year leases) to use to see if banks will accept them and give us favourable interest rates on loans but it is commendable the issue was finalised,” he said.
Without proper financial support, Chabikwa said farmers had not been able to offset water and electricity bills.
“With no funding, farmers have not been producing enough to get maximum returns, in turn farmers continue to wallow in debt as they are failing to settle water and electricity debts,” he said.
“There is need for Government to consider slashing the cost of raw water in rural and farming communities rather than charging it as water in urban areas.
“By slashing the cost of raw water, it means more farmers will be compelled to adopt the use of irrigation.”
Turning to the livestock sub-sector, Chabikwa said farmers castigated Rural District Councils (RDCs) that were charging a levy on livestock sales which has not yet been gazetted by Government and in the process short-changing producers.
He said the move that had been taken by RDCs to charge the levy would negatively affect livestock production.
Chabikwa said farmers were proposing a lower percent levy to be charged.
“This approach by the RDCs disincentivises the production of livestock to the detriment of the nation and jeopardises the livelihoods of a vast number of people dependent on livestock,” said Chabikwa.
“If the law is allowed to be passed, it will have the effect of totally destroying the viability of livestock production in the nation, particularly cattle production in natural regions three, four and five where farmers are also being charged excessive land unit taxes by the very same RDCs.”

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