By Ndafadza Madanha
GOVERNMENT’s much hyped command agriculture program hangs in the balance amid revelations that financial challenges could jeopardize its success.
The command agriculture program spearheaded by Vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who also chairs the cabinet committee on food security has contracted 20 000 farmers to plant 400 000 hectares of maize during the 2016/17 summer season.
Output from the 400 000 hectares is set at two million metric tonnes, with US$500 million required to fund the program which will bolster the country’s food security and reduce grain imports.
Government anticipated raising money to finance the project through issuance of bonds to local pension funds and borrowings from local and financial institutions.
However, with the 2016/17 agriculture season well underway, government is battling to provide inputs to farmers who qualified for the command agriculture program.
VP Mnangagwa told a Zanu-PF Parliamentary caucus last week that government had given inputs to 12 000 out of the 20 000 farmers who had subscribed for the program.
He added that government was now looking at external financers to bankroll the program as local financing was too expensive.
The shortfall in funding has resulted in government delaying meeting financial obligations to suppliers who have in turn delayed releasing inputs for the program.
In an interview, DuPont Pioneer Zimbabwe country manager Temba Nkatazo said while the company had received a substantial order for maize seed from government, delays in payment had delayed the release of the inputs.
“We have moved about 1000 tonnes for command agriculture, however the biggest challenge with the program is the delays in payment. You will find that in some areas, the program is going to be a success and others it will fail dismally.
“Government should have ensured by the 1st of September or the latest 30th that every farmer had the necessary inputs. Unfortunately now the rains are with us and some places like Gokwe and Nkayi will not be accessible to deliver the inputs,” said Nkatazo.
Agriseeds managing director Simon Nyanhete said his company had received a 500 tonne order for the presidential scheme and the company was yet to deliver 90 tonnes.
Zimbabwe’s annual maize consumption stands at 1.5 million tonnes. However, due to poor yields in the 2015 harvest which left over four million in need of food aid according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Report of 2016, farmers failed to meet the demand.
Agriculture is critical to Zimbabwe’s economy providing 30 percent of export earnings and contributing 19 percent to GDP, while 70 percent of the population still survives on farming.
Agriculture production in Zimbabwe has declined over the years with a steady increase in national food insecurity from an average of 12 percent in 2011 to 42 percent in 2016.