Uncertainty hangs over 2006/7 cropping season

News Analysis by Augustine Mukaro


AN acute shortage of essential inputs, lack of funding and continued uncertainty in the agriculture sector could undermine output in the coming 2006/7 cropping season.

Indications from firms that supply basic inputs rangi

ng from chemicals, fertilisers, tillage and funds show limited stocks with only two months left to Zimbabwe’s summer cropping season.

The shortages have been major characteristics of the past six seasons since the inception of the often-disruptive land reform programme. Production in all facets of agriculture has plummeted, dragging the economy down with it.
Agricultural experts estimate production to have fallen by 70% since the 2000 land invasions.

Officials at Sable Chemicals, an ammonium nitrate fertiliser-producing company, said farmers should brace themselves for severely reduced fertiliser supplies this season following the damage to one of the transformers at the company’s plant near Kwekwe.

“It took about six months to install a replacement, implying that there was no production,” an official said.

“This means that a large proportion of the national fertiliser requirement will have to be imported.”

The fertiliser industry needs US$41,5 million for the next season. Out of this only US$2 million translating to a mere 5% of requirements has been secured, according to secretary for Agriculture and Lands, Simon Pazvakavambwa.

Pazvakavambwa told a special parliamentary committee on Tuesday that at least 36 550 tonnes of hybrid maize seed and 7 860 tonnes of open pollinated varieties to cover 1, 8 million hectares was available for the 2006/7 season.

The Sable Chemicals official said the company continued to be hamstrung by “iniquitous pricing policies” which have all but stopped any effective repairs and maintenance and refurbishment of the plant, necessary to improve output.

Planting a hectare of maize crop requires around 300 kilogramme of compound D fertiliser and a similar amount of ammonium nitrate fertiliser.

Analysts said besides the scarcity of the inputs, government’s policy inconsistencies and farm invasions had further jeopardised efforts to revive the country’s agricultural sector. Policy inconsistencies have eroded hopes of gaining investor confidence.

“Variations in policy and authorities’ statements make the environment very unpredictable and difficult for an investor to commit resources without guarantees for the future or even recovery of seed capital,” one analyst said
“The confusion and uncertainty has put virtually all farmers  — newly resettled and or the remaining white commercial — into anxiety instead of production mode.  The worst enemy to increased productivity remains the lack of security of tenure in the agricultural sector where farmers are evicted on a daily basis.”

Farmers’ organisations said lack of inputs could be a major impediment this season.

“There are many, many challenges. Farmers have been selling their produce but when they go to fertiliser companies or crop chemical companies, there is nothing to buy,” a Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union official said.

Government ministers last week told the agriculture parliamentary portfolio committee that the 2006/7 season looked bleak in the light of looming shortages of fertiliser and tillage units.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made for the first time since the launch of the land reform programme last week admitted before the parliamentary committee that the country faced a shortage of fertiliser and farmers were worried by lack of finance.

“The seed houses are ready… Seed is already being distributed in the market but the fertiliser side is the biggest challenge,” Made said, citing equipment failure at Sable Chemicals.

Made said this would force Zimbabwe, which has suffered chronic foreign currency shortages during a six-year-old economic recession, to import a large portion of the nation’s fertiliser requirements.

Water and Infrastructure Development minister Munacho Mutezo said the state arm, the District Development Fund (DDF) that offers tillage to poor farmers for a nominal fee, had been hit by a breakdown of equipment.

“We have not re-capitalised DDF for a long time,” Mutezo said.

“They have not been buying new equipment. They have also not been adequately maintaining equipment because they do not charge rates that enable them to recover their costs.”

Critics charge that government’s skewed policies and failure to address basic problems have brought the agriculture-driven economy to its knees, making it almost impossible to motivate people to increase production, especially for the 2006/07 season.

One displaced farmers said rebuilding and revival of agriculture could only take place when the relevant fundamentals were in place. At the moment not one of these fundamentals exists.

“The rule of law does not prevail in the commercial farming areas, only the writ of the land committees and the war veterans has any force,” the farmer said.

“The Green Bombers (party youth militia) still maintain their menacing presence and are answerable only to themselves. Perpetrators of violence and murderers are still on the prowl, free to murder with impunity,” the farmer said.

He said to create something of value in this anarchic environment was inviting the looters to strike.

“How can any self-respecting man put down roots and begin the arduous toil of building a business while such bloodcurdling threats are ever present?”

Agricultural experts said land was stock in capital and could only be used to access funds upon provision of proof that one was indeed the holder of title, and that proof takes the form of formal documents. 

Most farmers have not yet put permanent structures on their properties as evidenced by the prevalence of pole-and-dagga huts in resettlement areas. Other beneficiaries are still to move on to their properties, as they do not have offer letters. Those who have relocated find it hard to embark on long-term developments either due to fear that they might be moved out or lack of resources, as they cannot borrow on the holdings.

Analysts say investment in the agriculture sector was made impossible by the enactment of Constitutional Amendment 17, which nationalised all land in Zimbabwe.

“All land in Zimbabwe is now state land, which undermines property rights and discourage any meaningful investment in agriculture,” one analyst said, adding: “In this age of free market and open economy, Zimbabwe is regressing by adopting frightening characteristics of the discredited closed economy.

“We are moving completely in the opposite direction. Land the world over is not owned by the state but by individuals and companies with leases and title deeds, which gives the land market value.”
                                                                                
Last year Gono advocated a “carrot and stick command agriculture” whereby only highly performing farmers benefit from government support so as to revive the country’s food self-sufficiency. Under the arrangement, the new investors, or skilled former operators would be given special dispensation and guarantees of uninterrupted productive tenure of 5-10 years, backed by a resolute fight against any disruptions on the farms by the relevant arms of government.

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