Zim food insecurity remains a challenge


Minister of Agriculture Joseph Made

ZIMBABWE is unlikely to achieve food security in the near future due to several challenges, which include erratic rainfall, poor funding, low producer prices and continued farm disruptions.
These factors are expected to continue wreaking havoc in the coming agricultural season.
Yet, simple but effective solutions are required to reclaim the breadbasket status from neighbouring Zambia and South Africa.
The start of the 2015/2016 cropping season ushers in a new beginning for farmers, with the banking sector having pledged US$1 billion in finance for the agricultural season.
But extreme weather conditions expected to persist from the 2014/2015 season will dampen Zimbabwe’s hopes of producing the more than over two million tonnes of maize required to adequately feed its people.
Despite good news from the bankers, the situation on the weather front appears depressing; rainfall is expected to be normal to below normal during the season, throwing into doubt prospects for agricultural revival in the new farming season.
The rain season is expected to be short starting in December and ending in February, if not earlier, and the Meteorological Services Department has recommended national cloud seeding programmes to enhance rainfall in areas where this is possible.
Extreme weather patterns are becoming more severe, with prolonged drought spells; the rainy days have become more erratic but violent and destructive.
Climate researchers have highlighted that the country’s rain seasons have become shorter with longer dry spells, affecting planting dates and yields.
The weather patterns will not only affect crop production but will also have negative effects on livestock production, considering that prolonged dry spells during the previous season reduced pasture land for livestock.
Also, viability is expected to remain precarious next season as there is very little finance available to farmers outside the large contracting companies. The finance available from banks is expensive, severely undermining the farmer’s margins.
Economist John Robertson said that because farmers occupy land that is no longer in the market and has no collateral value, banks could not help finance farming without incurring unacceptable risk.
Therefore, although the money is available, it is inaccessible because many of the farmers’ lack the collateral.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Wonder Chabikwa, urged bankers to come up with packages that would allow farmers to access cheaper finance at between six to 10 percent interest.
“The stop order system and the commodity warehouse receipt system, if introduced, will go a long way in assisting farmers to finance their crop but for now farmers do not have the collateral to access that money.
“Farmers also need medium to long term loans that will allow them to rehabilitate their infrastructure, from irrigation to farm machinery. But as long as the banks require immovable assets, it will not be possible for farmers to access the money,” Chabikwa said.
Lack of adequate finance has seen more and more commercial farmers resorting to contract farming and despite having its advantages, according to Robertson, the scheme has negatively affected food production output.
“Several disadvantages have impacted upon Zimbabwe because of the forced move to this system. Perhaps the main one is that the contract buyers are interested only in non-food agricultural products and in Zimbabwe, this has confined them to tobacco and cotton. As a result, Zimbabwe’s most active farmers are not growing food, and ever since the land reform, the food import bill has become an extremely large part of total import costs. The food deficits started 15 years ago and the imports have cost about US$1 billion a year,” said Robertson.
Prospects for the 2015/2016 season remain bleak such that the Southern African Development Community also announced that the food security situation in the bloc’s 15 nations would be poor due to inadequate rainfall in most parts of the region.
The country’s agricultural output will continue to plunge as long as agricultural policies are largely determined by political considerations rather than business ones. The agricultural business environment would forever remain extremely investor unfriendly and uncompetitive.
As a result, relatively little funding is available to farmers and contract farming is the only lifeline.
The lack of funding options has placed farmers in a very vulnerable position. Most are price takers for both inputs and outputs and some have substantial carry-over debts from previous seasons.
Commercial Farmers Union director, Olivier Hendrik, agreed that prospects for the 2015/2016 agricultural were gloomy in terms of finance and property rights, which is the foundation for a viable agricultural sector.
“There is money that is lying around; farmers will need collateral to access that finance. Also, the consistent inability for commercial farmers to produce because of regular farm disturbances despite promises that they will get offer letters and 99 year leases, will impact on the season,” Hendrik said.
This year, the poor performance of the agricultural sector, by and large, contributed to the downward revision of the country’s economic growth.