Farmers hamstrung by lack of support

Augustine Mukaro

WITH her nine-month old baby girl strapped to her back, Sarudzai Humbwe struggles to clear overgrown weeds and grass overwhelming her now yellowing maize crop.

Sarudzai’s husband and her three other children are busy preparing the land with an ox-drawn plough, two months after the planting period. The Humbwe family is still hoping against the odds to produce enough food to feed themselves and contribute to national output.

Their initial crop was planted on land that was not ploughed at all — the zero tillage concept — and had used untreated seed. They had no fertiliser and other critical inputs. They planted their maize unprepared land because they had no tillage facilities and other essential inputs.

This is what the Zimbabwe Independent news crew which visited Mashonaland Central and West’s farming areas on Tuesday this week discovered.

The Humbwe family’s plight is generally reflective of what is happening to most newly resettled farmers, be they A2 or A1 farmers, across the country.

New farmers who spoke to the Independent during the visit attributed delays in planting and the poor crop to lack of support in the form of capital and inputs. Government has been claiming that it was supporting the new farmers in various ways to ensure they produce for themselves and the nation.

However, the situation on the ground shows that the new farmers are struggling to due lack of support.

“The biggest drawback over the past four years we have been here has been the unavailability of tillage facilities,” said Obediah Mupanganyama, an A1 farmer at Vairona Farm in the Mazowe area.

“The majority of the farmers proceeded to plant on untilled land which brings us to the problem you are looking at. The weeds have overwhelmed the crops and we have no machinery or chemicals to deal with it.”

Most farmers said the District Development Fund (DDF) never turned up to till their land despite being paid for the services.

“Settlers at Sekerere Farm teamed up to pay for tillage in October last year but the DDF tractors only turned up at the farm last week,” another farmer who only identified himself as Mukoko said. “Their excuse was that they have no capa-city to service each and every farmer in the country.”

Mukoko said the new farmers could not afford to hire private tractors.

“Private tractors are charging $300 000 per hectare excluding fuel and $350 000/ha including fuel,” he said.

Other than the tillage problem, farmers at Bally Hooly Farm in Glendale said the supply of inputs was erratic such that most of them used untreated seeds.

“At the moment we can’t access ammonium nitrate which is very critical for production considering the stage our first crop is at. We have managed to come up with a crop from our own initiative but the yield will drop signifi-cantly if we cannot get fertiliser in two weeks’ time.”

Agricultural experts have said despite numerous promises by government to provide farmers with inputs and tillage, very little if anything has been provided. The current harvest season is likely to be one of the worst ever due to a combination of factors such as poor planning, lack of adequate financing and erratic rains.

Usually by this time, the late planted maize crop throughout the country would be at knee level. But this week’s tour showed that a number of farmers were still planting.

The chaotic land reform programme, condemned by international donors and the opposition as unworkable and a recipe for disaster, is turning out to be just that. Over the past four seasons, production in all facets of the agriculture sector has plummeted, dragging the economy down with it. Most farmers estimate production to have fallen by 70%.

This year government resorted to secret importation of grain to cover up shortages despite claims of a bumper harvest and barring humanitarian aid organisations from bringing in food. Government claims a record 2,4 million tonnes were harvested but this was shot down when a lands and agriculture parliamentary portfolio committee reported that only 388 558 tonnes were produced. The figure represents only a sixth of the country’s requirements.

Inherent policy contradictions have demonstrated that even amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, the appointment of a series of audit committees or taskforces, have done nothing to improve production.

Six committees were appointed to audit the achievements of the land reform programme but facts on the ground show that agriculture has been completely ruined by the land reform which was characterised by widespread violence and grabbing of farms for self-aggrandisement.

Farming activities require proper financing, planning and expertise which have been conspicuously absent over the past four years.

Special Affairs minister John Nkomo in Jan-uary last year admitted that the land reform exercise had failed in some places. “In some cases, the percentage of people who took up the farms that they were allocated has not been encouraging. Only 40% of people who were allocated land have taken it up,” Nkomo was reported to have said.

Nkomo blamed lack of finance, saying farmers who wanted to take the land had difficulties obtaining bank loans. He was quoted as saying there was confusion on the ground caused by the listing and delisting of farms.