The goal in 2010 is food security

drought_cropsHARARE - The government, NGOs and donor countries in Zimbabwe are rushing to distribute agricultural inputs ahead of the summer rains, but ending donor dependency and returning to food security in 2010 will still be a close-run thing, analysts told IRIN.

In the first quarter of 2009 nearly seven million Zimbabweans relied on emergency food aid; initial forecasts by aid agencies are that about 2.8 million people will require food assistance in the last few months leading up to the April 2010 harvest.

The unavailability of agricultural inputs like seed and fertilizer during Zimbabwe’s economic implosion, as well as unseasonal dry spells, made the country – once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa – dependent on food aid to stave off starvation for several years.

Renson Gasela, agriculture secretary in the break-away faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Arthur Mutumbara, told IRIN there was a marked change from previous years in helping farmers access inputs, but warned that the effort may have been left to late. October is the main planting season.

“We are hearing discussions about providing inputs to farmers at a much earlier stage than in previous years, but one feels that this should have happened two or three months ago in order to ensure that farmers are adequately prepared for the oncoming farming season,” Gasela said.

The unity government of President Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU(PF), and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC, recently launched a US$210 million scheme targeting both small- and large-scale farmers with subsidized inputs for the 2009/10 season, to be distributed through the 80 depots of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), a parastatal monopoly.

Vice-President Joyce Mujuru told residents of Murewa district in Mashonaland East Province that the government placed great importance on ensuring food security at “household level”, and was working with NGOs to “make sure that all intended beneficiaries get the inputs … without favour on political or any other grounds”.

She said the government scheme would be complemented by other projects that would make inputs available to about a million communal farmers, who produce around 70 percent of the country’s cereals.

On 8 August 2009 the state-run broadcaster announced that fertilizer from South Africa was being transported to GMB depots for distribution. The European Commission (EC) to Zimbabwe is to provide free seed and 25 percent of the required fertiliser for about 180,000 rural farming households.

A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in July 2009 noted that “About 600,000 households will be receiving agricultural input support from non-governmental organizations and other humanitarian organizations.” More than 10 NGOs pledged US$60 million to provide inputs to cover two hectares for each family.

Gasela said the US$210 million the government had set aside for inputs “sounds small to me, considering that we have around 220,000 resettled and needy farmers”, but “it is bound to go a long way in addressing the problem of inputs shortages, considering that farmers will also get free inputs from other … [sources]”.

It is a good thing that the government has decided to sell inputs to us at half the price, but it looks like the majority of farmers will have problems raising the money to buy the fertilizer and seed that we needCorruption

Gasela also had other concerns. “Corruption is so endemic in Zimbabwe, and there are no reasons to assume that it will go away this time around. There is a likelihood that those in influential positions, as has happened in the past, will benefit at the expense of needy and vulnerable farmers.”

Thomas Sakarombe, 56, a farmer in Mazowe district, about 40km east of the capital, Harare, told IRIN he intended to put 60 hectares of his plot under maize and sorghum, but was struggling to raise a loan to buy government-subsidised inputs.

He was recipient of the fast-track land reform programme that began in 2000 and redistributed more than 4,000 white commercial farms to landless blacks.

“It is a good thing that the government has decided to sell inputs to us at half the price, but it looks like the majority of farmers will have problems raising the money to buy the fertilizer and seed that we need.

“Our farmers’ unions have told us that we can raise the money for the loan from banks, but when I visited my bank I was referred from one branch to another … The sticking point seems to be collateral, as the bank is unwilling to accept the offer letter that I have,” Sakarombe said.

The government issued letters to beneficiaries of the land reform programme, conferring proof of formal occupation on the new farmers; however, the land is on a 99-year government lease and banks are reluctant to accept the land as collateral for loans.

NGOs struggle to support farmers

Fambayi Ngirande, head of communications at the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), an umbrella body for local NGOs, told IRIN that NGOs assisting farmers with inputs were encountering financial obstacles, as food security was not the only consideration.

“The NGO sector is finding it a bit difficult because of low funding levels and overwhelming demands … There is preoccupation with meeting needs in such areas as school fees, feeding schemes for vulnerable people and the fight against cholera, especially as the rains are about to come,” Ngirande said.

A cholera epidemic that lasted from August 2008 until July 2009 claimed more than 4,000 lives and afflicted nearly 100,000 other people. Humanitarian workers expect the waterborne disease to return with the rains.

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