Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Zim Agriculture Still In Doldrums

Zim Agriculture Still In Doldrums

Tabitha Mutenga 16 Oct 2014

corn field in ZimbabweDESPITE government’s relentless efforts to revive agriculture by redistributing vast tracts of land and availing inputs and agricultural machinery to new farmers, the country’s food security remains under threat from an underperforming agricultural sector. The turnaround in Malawi and Zambia, from being food deficit countries to producers of surplus grain and overcoming food shortages in the process, has demonstrated that the grain subsidy programme to communal and smallholder farmers has seen those countries trebling maize production to 3,6 million tonnes for Malawi and 3,3 million tonnes for Zambia.

Zimbabwe has the same programmes and an even better mechanisation programme for the past 14 years but the farmers are nowhere near to being able to produce enough for the national requirements of 2,2 million tonnes. Indications so far are that if not properly co-ordinated, the 2014/15 season may be disrupted by late distribution of inputs. The Brazilians have extended to Zimbabwe agricultural machinery under a US$98,6 million loan targeted at increasing efficiency and reducing the underutilisation of land through the expansion of cropped areas. This is despite the fact that the country has hundreds of tractors lying idle in the countryside.

Agricultural expert, Mandla Nkomo, said government had done well through the intervention programmes introduced so far but agriculture, like any other industry, needed co-ordination. “Intervention should not be in selected areas; it should be across the board and well co-ordinated,” Nkomo said.  He said government should not ignore the capacity of organised agriculture and should fully utilise the capacity of farmers’ unions such as the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union.


“Everything centres on proper and organised co-ordination, without that all these interventions will not succeed,” he said.

The first disbursement of the Brazilian loan facility will amount to US$38,6 million, while the remainder will be availed in two tranches of US$30 million each. The facility will also see Zimbabwean farmers benefiting from technological assistance through agricultural machinery and equipment supplies from Brazil. Many are sceptical whether this new facility will alter anything in the way farmers do their business. Instead, they reckoned, the country would be flooded with unproductive tractors as they remain parked at homesteads and hardly working the fields.

Agricultural expert, Vincent Gwarazimba, lambasted government for getting another credit from Brazil when previous deals from China and even Brazil itself are yet to bear fruits. “Government has taken over the previous debts made by Edward Raradza on behalf of Farmers World with the Chinese during the mechanisation programme and this is at the expense of the taxpayers. But what happened to that equipment? First it was advanced to party supporters many of whom have no knowledge of farming let alone use of that equipment. Because of little knowledge, they could not produce to pay for the tractors. Government policy further exacerbated the situation with misuse of resources as the Grain Marketing Board could not pay for grain deliveries.

“Now we have another US$98,6 million credit from Brazil. Where is the equipment going? Indeed this government seems to have the propensity to take credit for equipment and give it to people who have failed agriculture. We need people able to nurse and steer the sector and country out of the situation. There are solutions. There is no excuse…. The solutions are with us,” Gwarazimba said.

Since the land reform programme, which began in 2000, Zimbabwe has pumped millions of dollars to support small-scale farmers and new commercial farmers with inputs and equipment, most of which was handed out free of charge. In the early 2000s, the argument in support of the provision of free inputs was that the new farmers needed all the support they could get to produce enough food to sustain the nation. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) embarked on an agricultural mechanisation programme, rolling out an input supply scheme targeting the country’s new commercial and small scale farmers.

At least 3 000 tractors were distributed to new black landowners, who also received 105 combine harvesters, 1 800 tractor-drawn ploughs, 500 planters, 746 chemical sprayers, 600 fertiliser sprayers, 210 hay bailers, 100 000 ox-drawn ploughs, 130 harrows, 2 000 planters, 46 200 cultivators, 78 000 farm carts, 92 000 knapsack sprayers, 200 000 chains, thousands of tonnes of fertiliser and grain inputs as well as millions of litres of diesel.

The US$200 million madness of a mechanisation programme saw all and sundry owning a tractor, boom sprayer, combine harvester but unfortunately, the ‘loans’ were never paid back. Most chefs who are politically affiliated to ZANU-PF received a shiny red Chinese tractor. Hundreds of tractors were distributed, representing the modernity of Zimbabwe’s agriculture, yet most of the equipment lies idle because of lack of maintenance and expertise on how to operate them. The cost of free equipment was meant to be recovered from beneficiaries over a period of three years.

Programmes like the Agriculture Sector Productivity Enhancement Facility (2005) to avail affordable loans to farmers, Agricultural Mechanisation Programme, the National Cattle Herd Rebuilding Programme and the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA)’s Operation Maguta were introduced yet farmers are still heavily reliant on government’s benevolence. Memorandums of Understandings were signed with China, Brazil and Iran but production plummeted to an all time low.

Former RBZ governor Gideon Gono in 2007 alluded to the fact that the tractors and implements which were allocated to ARDA in 2004 could not be accounted for.
“There is need for ARDA to be audited, so as to bring closure to this matter. It is however disheartening that the 2004 sponsored ARDA equipment were like seeds which fell on barren ground for to this date, no one seem to know the fate of the equipment outlined above. ARDA is thus imposing a burden to the economy to replace the machinery that cannot be accounted for,” Gono said.

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