Agric puts its best foot forward

In his inaugural speech on November 24, 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe’s economic turnaround would be hinged on agriculture.

Like all other ministries, Air Chief Marshal (Retired) Perrence Shiri, the Agriculture Minister, and his team were tasked to come up with a 100-day action plan to reverse stagnation in the sector.

As the 100 days have come full circle, The Sunday Mail Society looks at some of the changes made in agriculture so far.

Tenure

The land question has been a contentious issue since Government embarked on the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme in 2000.

No one disputes the necessity of remedying tenure patterns after dispossession of the majority by a few, white settlers.

Problems arose on matters of security of tenure of resettled indigenous people, unlawful farm occupations and compensation to white former farmers for developments made on land they once held.

The new Government has tackled these issues head on.

First, the President revealed Government’s plans to compensate white formers farmers. Then he proceeded to extend lease agreements to white farmers from five years to 99 years.

The State has clamped down on illegal farm occupations, and a land audit to end multiple farm ownership, among other objectives, has started with final reports from all 10 provinces expected soon.

The issue of compensation had strained relations between Government and external financiers. As such, experts believe the changes will help open lines of credit.

The refocused land audit is expected to bring order and end corruption in land tenure issues.

Given that most of these issues had remained unsolved for years, Government can only be credited for responding to them in a matter of months.

Funding

One of the major drawbacks of agriculture over the years has been funding.

That is why when Government successfully negotiated with the banking sector to have 99-year leases bankable, it was commended for its breakthrough.

Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmers’ Association Trust president Depinah Nkomo said farmers, particularly women, were happy with the development.

“We want support from Government and the banks,” she said.

“Banks used to give long-term loans to former farmers but to us new farmers of land reform programme, we were being treated badly so we appreciate the Government for taking this initiative.”

Government’s Command Agriculture programme, which provides structured loans to farmers was already in effect when the new Government came in; and seeing as President Mnangagwa and Minister Shiri were its architects under the old regime, it was to be expected that the game-changing scheme would be continued.

The 2018 National Budget was also refreshing in terms of financing agriculture. Of course, more can still be done in terms of unlocking financing for this key economic sector.

Mechanisation, irrigation

Modern agriculture is premised on mechanisation, technology and irrigation.

Rolling this out at a national level will take more than 100 days anywhere in the world, but Government has hit the ground running in terms of seeking partnerships to finance irrigation schemes and supply of equipment.

For many farmers, the concern remains transparency in access to machinery.

Ms Nkomo says the “big boys” usually get preferential treatment and yet it is ordinary farmers who are most in need of machinery and equipment.

“There is still segregation when it comes to distribution of equipment and the benefactors are not real farmers,” she says.

“History teaches us that these so-called farmers do not pay back for the equipment they get and this puts pressure on Government.

“Presidential inputs are being distributed by headmen and councillors and there is a lot of corruption there.”

Production costs

High costs of production impede the viability of the sector and the competitiveness of produce on markets.

“The cost of production has not been adequately dealt with,” says Mr Wonder Chabikwa, president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union. “In fact farmers haven’t felt anything positive on input costs especially agrochemicals and fertilisers which skyrocketed at the beginning of the season.”

Due to shortage of foreign currency and speculation, prices of most inputs almost doubled and some inputs became scarce.

Also, the cost of electricity and water, farmers say, is something the State should look at if Zimbabwe wants to build an internationally competitive agriculture sector.

“A holistic approach which looks at everything from infrastructure, the policies themselves, value addition and access to markets will sure start to make things ticking,” says agronomist Mr Benard Rwizi.

“The Government has already started doing some of the things and they should continue to build on that beyond the 100 days.”

39,908 total views, no views today