2011 agric season faces massive challenges

Unpredictable rainfall patterns combined with the poor performance of the economy and failure by “new farmers” to settle debts are some of the factors standing in the way of a successful agricultural season.

Nationalised farms occupied by “new farmers” have no title deeds and therefore no collateral.
Nationalised farms occupied by “new farmers” have no title deeds and therefore no collateral.

A major impediment is that of land security. Nationalised farms occupied by “new farmers” have no title deeds and therefore no collateral to secure loans from financial institutions.

The government has therefore been largely subsidizing them with inputs and funds but in most cases they have failed to re-pay loans.

Ben Purcell-Gilpin, manager of the Commercial Farmers’ Union Agriculture Recovery and Compensation unit told The Zimbabwean that most farmers were in default over last season’s short term borrowings and would not secure funding this season.

But last week Finance Minister Tendai Biti announced a $75 million fund to help thousands of smallholder farmers, in a bid to revive the agriculture sector after years of decline.

Biti has insisted that government cannot continue playing "Father Christmas" to the recipients of nationalised former commercial farms, saying the era of freebies had ended with RBZ governor Gideon Gono's "quasi-fiscal policies".

But on Thursday he and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made announced the fund for half a million small-scale farmers, including 100 000 "vulnerable households".

Official sources said pressure had been brought to bear on Biti from Zanu (PF) ministers and President Robert Mugabe himself over the $45 million owed to farmers, mainly for grain delivered to the GMB.

Biti was said to have clashed with Mugabe in Cabinet two weeks ago over the issue. Mugabe told his 86th Ordinary Session of the Central Committee in Harare last week Thursday that the MDC was sabotaging his agrarian revolution.

"They have been deliberately resistant to pay farmers millions of dollars," Mugabe said.

In addition to $30 million to pay farmers owed by GMB, Biti announced the Agriculture Input Support Facility for the "vulnerable." This facility will see 100 000 so-called "vulnerable farmers" getting free farming inputs from government, an input package comprising 1x 10 kgs maize seed or 1x5kgs of sorghum, 1×50 kgs Compound D fertiliser and 1 x 50 kgs Ammonium Nitrate.

"The farmers will access the inputs from GMB depots for free through a voucher system," Biti said.

He said the stabilisation and eventual resuscitation of agriculture was crucial to the overall economic development of Zimbabwe.

He also launched a US$20.3 million Communal Farmers Subsidised Agriculture Inputs Support facility. Biti said this facility will support 250 000 communal farmers with an input package similar to the one mentioned above, but the communal farmers will have to pay a small fee.

There has been a relentless onslaught on the MDC minister over his failure to pay new farmers for grain delivered to the GMB. Biti had explained that cash for GMB had been diverted to bankroll unbudgeted for pay hikes for civil servants.

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