Govt Crop Predictions Reap Disbelief

ONCE upon a time Agriculture minister Joseph Made took a helicopter ride to assess the situation on farms and told the nation that Zimbabwe would have a bumper maize harvest. By the end of that agricultural season, Made’s comments came back to haunt him.

The season was one of the worst the country had experienced. After that humiliating incident of pulling figures from thin air, he was discredited. Now, agriculture permanent secretary Ngoni Masoka is at it again.

He told reporters in the capital on Wednesday that Zimbabwe would produce enough food to feed itself.

Masoka said: “Last year we were assisted by South Africa with R300 million in December. We needed seeds inputs and fertilisers. We are more prepared this year than we were last year.”

Annually Zimbabwe needs 2,2 million tonnes of cereals, according to Masoka. Of the 2,2 million tonnes, 1,8 million tonnes is consumed by Zimbabweans while the rest goes to stockfeeds.

But Commercial Farmers Union vice-president Charles Taffs feels government is setting the bar too high for itself given the lack of preparedness.

He says Zimbabwe is not prepared although the rainy season is looming.

Taffs told delegates at an agriculture conference in the capital this week that Zimbabwe is headed for another farming disaster saying resources — mainly inputs — are not yet in place.

He said: “The rains are upon us and we are still talking about agricultural finance. I have been all over the country and we are in an unprepared state. We need to be real with ourselves. We will have a deficit and we need to be prepared for that.”

Taffs’ warning, however, fell on deaf ears with Masoka arguing “we are ahead of time”.

Masoka’s argument is premised on the fact that Zimbabwe only got funding from South Africa in December but still managed to have enough food for the country this year.

He argued: “We only got the money on 20 December last year and got the green light to disburse the money on Christmas Eve and we did not go wrong.”

From the money, Masoka said US$24 million went into inputs, excluding fertilisers.

Taffs said although government has secured funding from the World Bank and donors amounting to around US$300 million, it was not enough to achieve its target. According to Taffs, in the good years the agricultural sector would spend at least US$1,3 billion to produce enough food.

But Farmers Development Trust chief executive officer Lovegot Tendengu backed Masoka at the conference saying there is nothing to worry about.

Against such a background, analysts said government could be gambling with public confidence should their projections go awry as what happened in previous years.

Asked if capacity utilisation had improved on resettled farms, Masoka denied there were under-utilitised farms.

“There are many farms that are doing very well. In fact, much better than the (performance of) former owners. I can take you around these farms if you want. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that utilisation is lower,” Masoka argued.

The World Bank said it would channel US$70 million through civil society this agricultural season and is optimistic the money will be put to good use.

But Taffs believes the agricultural sector is struggling because there is lack of tenure of security after the chaotic land reform exercise of 2000. Owing to lack of tenure and apparent property rights violations, Zimbabwe cannot access foreign lines of credit.

So far Zimbabwe has secured only US$1 billion in foreign aid and lines of credit from African financial services group such as Afreximbank and African Development Bank.

Farmers unions said lack of funding was an area of concern this season with speaker after speaker highlighting the need for banks to provide lending.

A Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union official said his members were struggling to access funds from banks.

He said: “Our members in Bindura have been denied funding by banks and most of them are now ready to place their houses as collateral.”

Capacity utilisation in the fertiliser industry is said to be around 35% on average.

Annually, Zimbabwe needs 500 000 tonnes of fertiliser. Top dressing of 300 000 tonnes is needed while the remaining 200 000 tonnes of compounds is fed to the soil.

The electrolysis plant at Sable Chemicals has been shut, but industry players said they would import all ammonia requirements this year.

Ammonia deliveries are limited because of transportation problems, industry players said.

The National Railways of Zimbabwe has not been a reliable service provider for years and road infrastructure is in a shambles.

Former agriculture permanent secretary Simon Pazvakavambwa gave an honest account of the problem dogging the sector and what went wrong.

He believes farmers have been so crippled by the dolling out of free inputs that they cannot be proactive.
Government over the years gave inputs to farmers in a bid to stimulate output in agriculture, but the trick did not work. Instead the resettled farmers abused government fuel, fertiliser and seeds.

“We spoiled our farmers so much that we disabled them,” Pazvakavambwa said.

He added that government’s monopoly through the Grain Marketing Board worsened the struggling farmers’ plight in the face of hyperinflation over the years.

National Farmers Union president Monica Chinamasa says farmers should ensure that there is food security at a household level next year.

 

Chris Muronzi

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