Elita Chikwati and Fidelis Munyoro
Government and stakeholders in the agriculture industry have scoffed at remarks by World Bank (WB) country representative Mr Johannes Herderschee in which he described Command Agriculture as ineffective and a waste of money.
Mr Herderschee said the Government initiative on the Special Maize for Import Substitution Programme was draining the national budget. He claimed the programme was ineffective, while the inputs given to farmers and the maize producer price were politically motivated.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made on Wednesday said the World Bank official should be concentrating on removal of the illegal sanctions imposed by Western countries, rather than trying to dictate what Government should do.
He said Command Agriculture had been exclusively funded by local companies and the maize producer price of $390 per tonne was meant to motivate farmers.
“The initiative by Government under the Food Security and Nutrition as well as the strategic thinking of developing a response to the perennial repeated drought for several years is related to the utilisation of water bodies to answer the question of spending millions of dollars on food importation, hence what we popularly refer to as Command Agriculture.
“We started with the special maize programme and that genesis should be understood. With better rains also, the variation was that Command (Agriculture) was to start exclusively with irrigated maize only, but consideration was given to areas of high rainfall and better soils, splitting 200 000 for irrigated and 200 000 dryland in areas of high rainfall.”
Dr Made said no one ever claimed that the grain that was being delivered to the GMB was from Command Agriculture alone, as it was coming from all sectors of farmers. He said Command Agriculture enabled mobilisation of funding that was made available to farmers .
Initially, farmers were failing to produce because the banks were offering short-term loans with high interest rates.
“The burden to the farmer had always been at financing at 18 percent interest and these had brought farmers down to their knees,” said Dr Made.
“No one ever argued that 176 000 hectares were planted under Command Agriculture. There is no doubt that the yield being achieved in those areas are exceeding the minimum requirement of five tonnes per hectare the farmer has to deliver to the GMB to cover the cost of inputs.”
Dr Made said the GMB price for maize was not going to be changed as the World Bank official would want. “World Bank is free to give its opinions, but should not try and give us directions as Government, he said.
“The maize producer price relates to our position and assessment as it relates to what we should do to motivate the farmer and we will address the price as it relates to the costs of food.
“Zimbabwe, as Government and the ruling party, is aware of its obligations to the motivation of the farmers and making sure the consumer can afford food.
“What is paramount is for Zimbabwe to be able to feed itself utilising its inherent natural resources, plus its technological intervention.
“Treasury is looking at developing 200 dams per district using its own budget. The funds raised by Government to fund Command Agriculture are local resources. Why it is that today there are already companies ready to fund Command Soyabeans and Wheat. Command Agriculture is a domestic solution.
Dr Made said a number of countries such as Brazil, China, Poland, Russia and Belarus were willing to work with Zimbabwe in terms of machinery and equipment for irrigation and drying of crops.
He said Government was also looking at expanding the Binga Irrigation Project, working closely with the Zanu-PF Women’s League.
“We have faced many challenges and we should concentrate on looking on the difficulties and come up with solutions,” said Dr Made. “We are going to intensify exploitation and development of irrigation.
“Leave Zimbabwe to its own devices. Anyone who wants to advice can do so, but not to tell us what to do and appear to be clever, we will not accept that.
“We must secure the land and agrarian reform. Government and the ruling Zanu-PF will not allow people to dampen farmers’ spirits.
“Mr Herderschee should instead assist us in the removal of the illegal sanctions,” said the minister.