Zimbabwe: Ball in Farmers’ Court Now

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Editorial

The Government has done well to acquire inputs for the next summer cropping season, ahead of time and is planning on starting distribution within a few weeks, so all farmers will be able to get started the week the rains start falling.

We are only in July and the summer cropping season normally starts three or four months from now, between November and December, depending on the region and how the rains fall.

We are told that the distribution of the inputs under the Presidential Input Scheme is expected to start in the few weeks. This is good news.

The Government should be applauded for being tactically smart and technically correct in its approach to the new farming season and getting everything in place in time so farmers can get cracking and apply the new techniques and programmes they are now being taught.

Smallholder farmers, who constitute the majority of the those who grow maize — our staple food crop although traditional grains are now once again starting to receive equal emphasis — have been trained under the Pfumvudza Scheme, whose emphasis is on family food security, first, with the multiplier effect on cumulative national food security.

When you add the recently commissioned John Deere tractor scheme to the equation, you do not need to be told about Government’s seriousness. The scheme has a range of tractors and farm equipment suitable for both smallholder and commercial farmers.

Also add the recently commissioned motorbike scheme for agriculture extension workers, so they can get to “their farmers” easily and quickly, and you don’t doubt the Government’s sincerity in attaining national food security.

The extension officers provide the much needed knowledge bank for farmers and are expected to be highly mobile this season.

Imagine, how much the Government had to deftly juggle and balance between fighting Covid-19 and saving the economy from taking further battering from the pandemic and still managed to get preparations funded and deliveries made for the 2020-21 farming season?

There is no doubt that this is proof of the great seriousness, the Government takes in ensuring national food security and also the good health of its people, as well as ensuring that our farming families can share in economic growth and earn a decent living producing all our food.

Everyone knows how hard Covid-19 has impacted on economies of even the richest of all nations and Zimbabwe is not an exception. While commending the Government for a job well done, we also hope that the financial institutions and banks, under which Command Agriculture now falls, have taken a cue from the Government and readied themselves for the coming season.

Using the banking system removes any temptation to allow people to jump the queue and prevents the possibility of corruption. It also rewards the hard-working honest farmers who do pay their debts and run their farms as businesses. These farmers neither need nor desire handouts, but they do need access to credit, access to advice and access to inputs.

Both the Presidential Input Scheme and Command Agriculture are key drivers to the attainment of national food security and indeed the attainment of Vision 2030.

To a farmer, there is nothing more important than having your inputs on time, for, it makes you able to plan and work on your fields on schedule.

History has shown that delayed deliveries or purchases of inputs, especially those that come after the onset of the farming season, are largely disruptive and can make all the effort that families put into their farms a waste of time, as the farmer is forced to do a lot of shortcuts.

And, shortcuts by their nature are costly and do not give high yields.

However, the narrative and the subsequent success of the next cropping season cannot be complete without the good uptake, right mentality and depth of character of the farmers.

Gone should be the days when inputs are sold cheaply on the parallel market soon after receiving them and the money spent on beer drinking binges and marrying more wives.

This is one of the reasons why the financing is going through the banks who are expected to know their customers and follow standard banking rules.

Inputs should be put to good use. This is hard earned money. The President would have used the money for other purposes had he not thought carefully of the farmers and the need for food security.

Gone should be the days when the farmers under Command Agriculture get loans, sell the inputs and also fail to pay back the loans. Gone should be the days when farmers get loans, but engage on side marketing to circumvent loan repayment.

Farming is business — serious business — and should therefore treated as such. The new rules, the new systems will benefit those farmers, a majority we hope, who have always taken life seriously and been business like in their operations.

They will now be given the respect they deserve by the bankers, who are, as business people themselves, eager to embrace others in business who take life seriously and are willing and able to produce for everyone’s profit. Banks are in business too and should be treated as such.

The Government as the guarantor of the loans under Command Agriculture should not hesitate to crack the whip on errant farmers who deliberately avoid repaying allocated loans. Government is an enabler. Governments do not grow food, make fertiliser or manufacture vast ranges of products from what farmers grow. But with some careful intervention can ensure that the producers do produce.

Suffice to say, this should be our make or break farming season, as the Government has put in place inputs on time, retooled back up mobile knowledge centres and trained the smallholder farmers on an expanded Pfumvudza technique that ensures family grain security.

It is envisaged that if everyone- from Government, to farmers, extension officers and banks — plays their part well, this coming farming season will be a great success.

Zimbabweans will eat food grown here; our farmers will be paid for that food, and with their profits ensure a better life for their own families, and all those other businesses, from banks and input suppliers who ensure the farmers can plant, right up to the millers and food companies who buy and process the crops, can make their own contributions and make fair profits.

The Government is there to grease the wheels and make sure that everyone plays their part.

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