The Sunday Mail
Government will start moving agricultural inputs for Command Agriculture to several parts of the country this week as it pushes farmers to plant early to maximise on imminent rains.
Logistical arrangements for delivery of inputs under the Presidential Input Support Scheme — expected to benefit 300 000 households — are being finalised.
In a major shift since the beginning of Command Agriculture in 2016, this year’s $2,8 billion kitty will be administered by banks to promote transparency.
Weather experts believe the showers that were received last week were a precursor to the rainy season. Normal to above-normal rains are forecast from October to December, while normal to below-normal rains are expected in the first three months of next year.
In a statement on Friday, Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri said distribution of inputs under Command Agriculture will start on Monday.
“The process of registration up to approval should take seven days or less. The programme will avail inputs through an electronic voucher system administered through the bank.
“Inputs will be provided at district level through suppliers, stockists and agents as will be advised by the bank during the contracting process. Farmers will start accessing inputs on the 7th of October 2019.”
Government, Minister Shiri said, had partnered Agribank, CBZ Bank, Women’s Bank and Stanbic to finance maize and soya bean production under Command Agriculture, which has since been extended to the 2019/2020 summer cropping season to give a helping hand to “infant farmers”, especially after last year’s drought.
More than 210 000 hectares and 30 000 hectares will be put under maize and soyabeans respectively under the programme.
He said under the CBZ facility, farmers will receive funding for production without collateral if they satisfy stipulated requirements at their respective Agritex district offices.
“After that initial process, the bank will contact all contracted farmers for accounts opening and processing of their financial contract at the nearest CBZ branch.
“Collateral is not required as the verification would have been done by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement.
“The tenure of the loan is 270 days at an interest rate of 10,5 percent per annum and an upfront fee of 2,25 percent. The upfront fees are part of the loan drawdown.”
Most provinces are already preparing to take delivery of the critical inputs.
Minister of State for Masvingo Provincial Affairs Ezra Chadzamira said the need to plant early could not be over-emphasised.
“Our province is waiting for the inputs as we have been informed that we will be getting them very soon. The message from head office is that we should be ready because they will start moving the inputs soon.
“The inputs will be transported to the depots and from there, they will distributed to the people. We are aware of the need to distribute the inputs early due to the demands of this season,” he said.
Similarly, Matabeleland Minister of State Richard Moyo said the province was preoccupied with farming preparations.
“The people are anticipating the inputs and we are aware that planting has to be done early this season because of the nature of the rains. This is a matter that we are seized with and by next week (this week), we should have a position on the dates for the distribution.”
Ministers Mary Mliswa-Chikoka (Mash West) and Monica Mavhunga (Mash East) told The Sunday Mail that they will be able to provide an update on the Presidential Inputs Scheme this week.
The Meteorological Services Department said the light rains received last week portend the beginning of the rainy season.
“In terms of the showers and light drizzle experienced this week, the rains were light and erratic; in terms of amount and distribution, not adequate for meaningful agricultural processes, though violent in places (coupled with lightning, strong winds and at times hail). This is common during this transient period before the main rain season begins,” said meteorologist Mr James Ngoma.
South African-based agricultural economist and consultant Mr Peter Gambara said farmers in some areas can begin planting this month unlike the traditional planting period of early November.
“The forecast for the rainfall season means those farmers who plant early are likely to see their crops reach maturity, more than those who plant late.
“An early maize variety will take about 120 days to reach maturity, whilst a medium-season maize variety requires about 140 days to reach maturity. A late-maturing maize variety needs about 158 days to maturity. A crop planted early in October or early November has approximately 150 days, before the forecast ‘normal to below-normal period’. Farmers should as much as possible plant with the first rains.”
Mr Gambara said crops planted early have a higher chance of reaching maturity than those planted late.
“A closer look at the weather forecast, shows that the first rains might fall around 11th October in Goromonzi district for example.
“Therefore, farmers in Goromonzi district, should have prepared their lands by that date, have their inputs in place, so that they can plant around that date, but preferably before that date. That increases the chance of the crop receiving what we call effective rains. Once a maize seed, that has been planted into a dry soil receives, effective rains, the chances are high that it will germinate. By end of October, the chances are high that subsequent rains will have fallen and the crop will strive,” he said.
In his State of the Nation Address (Sona) at the official opening of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Government had set aside $1,8 billion for the production of strategic crops such as maize, soyabeans and cotton.
“Of this amount, $567, 4 million has been allocated for the provision of inputs for vulnerable households and $332 million to ensure the procurement of inputs for cotton production. A total of $968 million will augment the $2,8 billion put forward by banks and the private sector to support the Command Agriculture Programme,” he said.
The United Nations says the region, Zimbabwe included, is in the throes of the worst drought since 1981.