via Farming preps behind schedule | The Zimbabwean by Farai Mabeza
Preparations for the next cropping season are behind schedule due to a delay in inputs and financial support from the state.
While it would normally fall on the farmer to organise financial support before the start of the season, a culture has developed in Zimbabwe where nothing happens until the state provides inputs, including seed and fertiliser.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has asked farmers to be patient as the government works on packages.
Despite a serious liquidity crunch, banks have expressed their concern with state directives to offer unsecured loans for agriculture. Many of the new settlers don’t possess collateral security, nor do they have title deeds for the land on which they are farming.
An attempt to address this anomaly was made through the introduction of government “offer letters”, especially for new commercial farmers. However, the banks have argued that these documents are not bankable.
Last year President Robert Mugabe donated $20 million worth of inputs to Zanu (PF) supporters. He claimed to have raised the money personally from his friends and well-wishers. The move was described by his opponents as a campaign gimmick ahead of the July 31 election.
With a five-year term ahead of him, it is still unclear if he will repeat the gesture this year. Wonder Chabikwa, the president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, which represents mostly new A2 farmers, told The Zimbabwean that time was running out for agriculture because of a lack of state-sponsored inputs. “Time is not on our side. By now farmers should be done with land preparation and inputs should be in hand. Another problem in this country is that farmers are unable to borrow money from banks because it is too expensive,” he said.
Chabikwa said funding remained the biggest challenge facing farmers.
“Right now there is nothing clear cut on funding. We expect the government to make an announcement on what level of support they will be providing.”
Chinamasa said the African Development Bank and other financial institutions had already been approached for help but so far the future remained unclear.
Chabikwa called on the private sector to enter into partnerships with farmers to support agriculture.
“There is a lot of activity. Contractors are moving around the country and we remain confident that the government will come through,” he said.
Economist Innocent Makwiramiti told The Zimbabwean that lack of preparation by the government had become a chronic problem in the post land reform era.
“We are always making blunders. Preparations for the agricultural season should be complete by April. That was the norm before the land reform,” he said. “Right now we are almost in October and there are no inputs and no clear financial support.”
Makwiramiti said because of the delays, it appears the 2013 to 2014 agricultural season was already lost.
“The government and key stakeholders should come together and start preparations for the 2014 to 2015 season,” he said.
Makwiramiti said the government should move away from blaming external forces and sanctions for its shortcomings.
“We must blame our poor management for the mess of our agricultural sector and not sanctions,” he said.
Nearly two million people will need food aid in the first quarter of 2014, the highest number since 2008 when Zimbabwe was literally on its knees, according to the World Food Programme.
However, Chabikwa said he was optimistic of a good harvest.
“We should be able to produce enough maize because it looks like it’s going to be wet season. Our target of 2.2 million metric tonnes of maize is reachable,” he said.
In the past four years, Zanu (PF) blamed Finance Minister Tendai Biti for what it called his reluctance to fund agriculture, a charge he persistently denied.