State of Agriculture in Zimbabwe

Agriculture has lost its glamor as some farmers struggle to stay afloat in a sector afflicted by a myriad of problems, among them the shortage of capital, limited power supply and unreliable weather patterns.

While in the past farmers were known for having some of the best houses and cars in the country, majority of them now are struggling to fully utilize their land.

Even those who have since abandoned low-paying maize farming and ventured into the more lucrative tobacco growing are finding the going tough, especially if they irrigate their crops, because of prohibitive electricity costs and erratic power supplies.

Disillusionment over the failure of grain procurer, the Grain Marketing Board to pay on time for maize delivery has spurred farmers to opt for cash crops such as tobacco and soya beans which are better paying.

It is anticipated that the country will this year harvest about 346,000 tons of maize against the demand of 2 million tons.

An estimated 247, 000 hectares of maize was planted countrywide by December 31 last year, down from 379, 993 in the previous farming season. Although more maize was planted early January, it is not likely to impact a great deal on the outlook.

Zimbabwe, which used to be called “the breadbasket of Africa,” has been unable to feed its people on its own since the land reforms which started in 2000 and the accompanying climate changes which have resulted in droughts and floods in some parts of the country. Earlier droughts such as the devastating one in 1992 also resulted in food shortages.

Many farmers have also over the years been failing to pay their electricity bills, resulting in power utility ZESA Holdings disconnecting them.

In the farming community of Beatrice, about 60 km south of Harare, farmers reportedly owed more than 4 million U.S. dollars in unpaid electricity bills as of end February.

A ZESA official said the farmers were arguing that if they settled their electricity bills they would not make any profit from their ventures.

“Maybe, they are in the wrong field because they have to pay for services rendered and still be able to make profits,” he said.

At the advent of the land reform program in 2000, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe decided to support new farmers by providing subsidized inputs and machinery, including tractors, scotch carts, combine harvesters, seed and fertilizers.

The farmers also had access to subsidized fuel, but this, together with other inputs such as seed and fertilizer, always found their way into the black market where they were sold to the smaller subsistence farmers at exorbitant prices.

The support to farmers went on until the formation of the inclusive government in 2009, when policy differences between the former solely Zanu-PF government and the new one comprising the former ruling party and former opposition parties led to a review of the program.

There are no longer free farming inputs provided, and farmer organizations are not happy with Finance Minister Tendai Biti for coming up with a different financing model that seeks short-term repayment of loans.

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