Lloyd Gumbo Senior Reporter
Secretary for Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Mr Ringson Chitsiko has rapped Government for prioritising importation of maize instead of supporting local farmers with inputs to enable them produce high yields just like neighbouring countries.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands, Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation Development yesterday, Mr Chitsiko said if Government gave farmers maximum support with inputs, it would see Zimbabwe return to its status as the breadbasket of Southern Africa.
He was responding to questions from legislators on why Zimbabwe’s neighbours had bumper maize harvests despite experiencing similar weather conditions.
Zimbabwe is experiencing acute food shortages which prompted Government to declare of a state of disaster last week.
“Why we are importing is because as Zimbabwe we are not putting our money where our mouth is,” said Mr Chitsiko.
“Our farmers require persistent seasonal support of inputs. Our population is growing so should be our productivity and production and in order for our production to grow, we need inputs.
“There is no way our farmers are going to produce adequately when they have no seasonal loans or where the loans are available the cost of that money is prohibitive.
“Agriculture never operates on interest rates that are higher than 5 percent in the whole world. It does not matter how we may dream it as Zimbabwe to think that we can do it at 14 percent, 18 percent, 22 percent or 28 percent. So as a nation, let us make a deliberate policy to allocate a budget.”
Mr Chitsiko said Zimbabwean farmers had the capacity to produce high yields as long as they were supported.
He said it was therefore incumbent upon the Government to support them through inputs and friendly policies.
“As we speak, we are importing maize as I alluded to earlier for about $200 million that we have set aside for that. Just because we have drought, now we find $200 million to import.
“In 2013-2014, we had a fantastic season, why did not we find the $200 million so that we could give the farmers to produce?
“Zimbabwe requires to develop its irrigation infrastructure. The countries where this maize is being produced, for instance Zambia, those who have flown over Zambia, it is a pattern of centre pivots all over. That is where the maize is coming from. Do not be fooled that it is coming from some village in the Copperbelt.
“It is organised commercial agriculture that is fully funded and supported not only with inputs but pricing and paying of those farmers,” said Mr Chitsiko.
He said it was important that local farmers are paid timeously when they deliver their grain to the Grain Marketing Board so that they can prepare for the forthcoming season.
Mr Chitsiko defended the importation of maize from countries like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Russia saying Government was more interested in ensuring that no one died of starvation as pledged by President Mugabe on several occasions.
He said Government had already started distributing some of the mechanisation equipment from Brazil while the other consignment was on its way.
Mr Chitsiko said it was unfortunate that some of the equipment was lying idle because the agricultural environment in some areas had changed since the initial assessment about five years ago.