Senior Agriculture Reporter
Farmer organisations have welcomed the stance taken by the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Ministry to exclude farmers who cheat from future input schemes and even see offer letters withdrawn from those who side-market their crop.
The Ministry recently stated that farmers contracted under State-supported input schemes who did not sell their maize to the Grain Marketing Board or those that default on repayment of loans advanced to the them under the National Enhanced Agriculture Productivity Scheme, commonly known as Command Agriculture, risk having their offer letters revoked. And they will not be helped in the coming season.
The success of Command Agriculture and other input schemes is dependent on repayment of loans by farmers, avoidance of side-marketing, and restoration of financial discipline and ethical behaviour in the conduct of business by all stakeholders in the agricultural value chain.
According to the ministry, the Minister reserves the right to revoke offer letters for farmers who use their offer letters to the detriment of Government-supported programmes, including an intentional failure to settle loans.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union director Mr Paul Zakariya yesterday said farmers should stick to contractual agreements and deliver the produce to the contractor.
“We are talking of agricultural financing through Agro-yield and other schemes. The contractor and the producer signed an agreement and the farmer should supply the crop to the funder who in this place is Government.
“Funding is already limited and we cannot mess things up. If we do not pay back we go back to square one where funding is not available,” he said.
Mr Zakariya said the withdrawal of offer letters was also welcome move.
“It works in the same way. Those defaulting will not be able to fund production and land will lie idle. It is also important to do another check to see whether farmers have the capacity to utilise the land.
“We cannot have large vast of land lying idle. The land should be repossessed and distributed to those with the capacity to utilise it,” he said.
“We do not condone breaching of contracts and as ZDFU we are spreading this message we are urging farmers to deliver the soya bean, cotton, maize and wheat produced under contract to the contractor.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Dr Shadreck Makombe said genuine farmers did not side market or default on loan repayments.
“Real farmers who take agriculture as a business do not side-market or default. Real farmers know the importance of paying back loans.”
“Those who side-market and default are conmen and they destroy the good image of farmers. We support Government’s position, the farmers should not continue to benefit from the facilities,” he said.
Dr Makombe said there were some genuine farmers who fail to pay back loan and these always make payment plans with the contractor.
“Last season some farmers who benefited under CBZ Agro-yield experienced challenges and approached the bank and agreed on payment plan.
“It is good that Government weed out those farmers who side-market,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Farmers Union vice president Mr Edward Dune said while the move taken by Government made business sense, they should also consider other factors especially on defaulting farmers.
Mr Dune said the funders should also look at the reason why the farmer defaulted.
“Government should also find an amicable way of dealing with the issue and not only resort to withdrawing offer letters,” he said.
Command Agriculture was initiated in 2016 to ensure national food security, accelerate import substitution, create employment and improve incomes and livelihoods.
Government is strengthening contract arrangements for the coming season to deter side-marketing, non-performance and under-performance.
Farmers who have fully paid their debts will be immediately enrolled for the new season while those with outstanding debts will not until they have made an immediate payment of at least 50 percent of the last season’s total loan amount by the end of September
More than 15 000 farmers benefit from this Command Agriculture annually, while over 2,3 million small-holder farmers benefit from social protection schemes annually.