The country has been receiving decent rains over the past few days and the Meteorological Services Department has said this signals the beginning of the rainy season.
We are hopeful that this beginning to the 2017/18 rainy season will result in a positive ending of yet another bumper harvest for the country and with it greater food security for our people. In this immediate past season the country harvested up to three million tonnes of cereals of which more than 2,1 million tonnes was maize. The maize harvest was so big that the Grain Marketing Board faced an unlikely challenge this year, that of shortage of space to store deliveries.
Cotton also did exceedingly well, as did tobacco. This was achieved because of a combination of good rains and the Government’s support mechanisms through the Command Agriculture scheme and the Presidential Inputs Scheme under which as many as one million farmers benefited.
We expect more of the same this season as the command scheme will continue with farmers having received their inputs as early as August. The Presidential Inputs Scheme is also continuing.
Well ahead of the onset of the rains, the Meteorological Services Department had told the nation that the country would receive normal to above normal rainfall from this month until early next year.
We however regret that while those benefiting from the command and presidential schemes are well catered for, farmers who are self-funding faced huge challenges in securing inputs from the open market as prices of fertilisers, seed maize, chemicals and other requirements rose sharply in recent weeks.
Manufacturers and stockists blamed the prevailing foreign currency shortage for the price increases.
This had potential to undo the momentum that the agriculture industry has built since last year. A majority of our farmers were not going to be able to afford the inputs, which means they risked failing to plant anything. If they did, there was a risk that they were going to plant small patches in their fields and fail to apply fertiliser.
We were facing a disastrous farming season.
We are, however, pleased that the Government intervened at the right moment by permitting farmers and agro-dealers to import inputs subject to requisite approvals from authorities.
As we report elsewhere on these pages, the Government will also import agricultural inputs for crop, livestock, fisheries and wildlife directly from the international manufacturers for sale to farmers at reasonable prices.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made yesterday said Government institutions will buy inputs directly from the manufacturing countries such as the Russian Federation, People’s Republic of China, India, Germany, France, Italy, Iran, Egypt and South Africa.
Zimbabwe will also import from Indonesia, Belarus, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, United States of America, United Kingdom and Malaysia among others.
“The Ministry has been directed to look for agricultural inputs and their acquisition directly from international manufacturers. To that extent, the Ministry is examining its various entities such as the Grain Marketing Board, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, Pig Industry Board and the boards to be established and re-established.
“Currently the law does not allow these institutions to purchase without going to tender. We will be consulting with the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to look at administrative instruments to allow for such purchases,” he said.
He said the inputs to be acquired will enable the country to defend its land and agrarian reform. This, he said, is because the farmers have become a target in terms of the prices.
“We will not allow pesticides, insecticides and herbicides and fertilisers that do not meet our national and domestic standards. We will be very alert on this matter,” he said.
The Government has demonstrated a welcome vigilance by permitting those with free funds to import farm inputs just as it became clear that a disaster was on the horizon. This will enable farmers to work properly while circumventing the extortionate prices that local producers and stockists were charging.
With this intervention, we are hopeful that the promising 2017/18 farming season will be yet another success.
We are, however, concerned that the intervention could have come a little late. The rainy season has already started and a farmer has to seek approval and travel abroad to buy his or her requirements in time before the season advances. There might not be enough time for all this, but as they say, it is better late than never.