MOST farmers still have no capacity to buy their own inputs this agricultural season, over a decade after the land reform programme commenced.
Report by Caiphas Chimhete
Such a scenairo has raised fears that the country could be hit by another food crisis next year.
A snap survey by The Standard in the past two weeks revealed that most of the farmers did not have enough inputs such as seed, fertilisers and chemicals, despite the fact that the farming season had already begun.
Although the inputs are readily available in shops, the majority of the farmers cannot afford to buy them. “If government does not avail subsdised inputs and increase the price of maize, most of us will grow maize just for our families,” said a Shamva farmer, Tonderai Mukonori.
“The country will experience another food crisis.”
Another farmer, Archibold Rugotwi of Banket, said he was reluctant to grow maize this season because it fetched very low prices on the market.
“With the little resources I have, I would rather grow crops that would give me enough money to send my children to school. It’s no use growing maize these days,” he said.
The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has been buying maize for US$285 per tonne, a figure the farmers said was too low.
GMB is also struggling to pay for grain delivered, meaning that farmers would not have the money to buy inputs.
Although the government resorted to paying farmers using inputs last year, the process was high-jacked by senior government officials.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union (ZCFU) president, Wonder Chabikwa, last week urged farmers to link up with companies that have contract farming programmes to enable them to access inputs.
“The major challenge is that farmers have no money to buy inputs,” he said.
“We encourage contract farming so that they can access inputs. But we encourage more companies to come on board [support contract farming] so that we can grow as much as our potential can allow,” said Chabikwa.
Among the companies that had contract farming programmes in the past farming season are Pioneer Seeds, Delta Corporations and Windmill (Pvt) Limited. But some are now reluctant to continue offering the service because of the high rate of default on repayments by the farmers. This year, they will only support seed growers and farmers who settled their debts.
Agricultural sector lacks funding: Taffs
Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) president, Charles Taffs, predicted another serious food crisis next year because banks, fertiliser and seed houses were not adequately funding agriculture.
He said the absence of security of tenure on land was discouraging financial institutions from supporting agriculture, which was seriously affected by the land invasions which began in 2000.
“We are worst prepared than most years,” said Taffs. “We are just in a disaster. The relevant ministries need to take this seriously. We need the correct agriculture policy, not one based on race.”
CFU estimated that Zimbabwe would produce between 600 000 and 700 000 tonnes of maize next season against an annual national food requirement of 1,8 million tonnes.
Taffs said Zimbabwe’s food crisis was going to be compounded by the fact that Zambia, where the country used to import maize, had run out of surplus. Apart from that, the whole southern African region has a maize deficit of five million tonnes.
Of the 54 African countries, 39 are facing food deficits, said Taffs, meaning Zimbabwe would have to compete with all those countries to import food.
“Coupled with that, America is experiencing the worst drought in 100 years, meaning Zimbabwe is going to face a real crisis,” he said. “We need to re-strategise as a country.”
At least 1,7 million people in the country require food aid this year following massive crop failure in the past season, according to the latest 2012 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment (ZimVAC) report.
Farmers must not rely on banks alone: Chabikwa
The worst affected areas are the provinces of Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South, and parts of Mashonaland, Midlands and Manicaland.
But Chabikwa has not lost all hope.
He said ZCFU expected that two million hectares would be put under maize this farming season up from 1 689 786 hectares last agriculture season.
“We could even do more if we had enough resources such as inputs and machinery,” said Chabikwa.
“Farmers cannot rely on banks because they are facing challenges, as they are relying on depositors’ funds and cannot finance long-term projects.”
Banks are reluctant to provide loans to farmers as they do not have the collateral in the form of title deeds. Banks have in the past said government should use the 99-year leases given to farmers as security.
Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Joseph Made, could not be reached for comment.
But seed companies last week assured President Robert Mugabe that they had enough seed for this farming season.
Chabikwa said despite the recent rains the farming season had not fully started.
“For those without irrigation, we urge them to start planting in the first week of November. In the meantime, they can speed up land preparations,” he said.