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Government should protect local farmers from cheap agricultural imports, which undermine their viability and compromise the land reform, farmers unions have said.

The unions said allowing the importation of genetically modified foods at cheaper prices undermines efforts to revolutionise the agrarian sector.

Chairperson of the joint committee of farmers unions Mr Abdul Nyathi said this while giving oral evidence before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture chaired by Mbire MP Cde David Butau (Zanu-PF) recently.

The unions represented were the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, Zimbabwe National Farmers’ Union, Commercial Farmers’ Union and Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union.

“We urge Parliament to consider the food imports versus the pricing system of local producers,” said Mr Nyathi. The majority of imports are cheap and GMOs, but as farmers we produce natural crops. Can Parliament assist us in this regard, otherwise farming will not be viable?”

Mr Nyathi said there must be a firm position on banning any GMO-related foodstuffs if local farmers were to realise meaningful benefits from their sweat.

Turning to contract farming, Mr Nyathi said the deal was often structured in favour of the contractor.

“A contractor is a businessman who wants to make money. Farmers need to be protected from these contractors,” he said.

Appearing before the same committee, rural women farmers said there was need to promote indigenous seed suitable for new rainfall patterns as part of efforts to contain climatic change.

They said seed companies should use locally produced crops suited to local climatic conditions instead of importing seed that might not be consistent with the Zimbabwean climate.

Rural women farmers, under the auspices of Women and Land in Zimbabwe, also gave evidence before the committee on the challenges they face.

“Agro-dealers are providing inputs late. The seed is not consistent with the ever-changing climate for different regions in the country. Dealers should supply the right seed for the right season,” said one of the women, Mrs Benia Jeche.

Another woman, Mrs Agatha Changunda, said traditional practices continued to marginalise women from owning land particularly in communal areas.

“Village heads distributing land, first consider a father and a son. Rarely does it occur to them that a woman should be given land,” she said. There is need to conscientise them of the new constitutional provisions for gender equality.

The women also complained about contract farming saying there was little time given to fill in the forms. “You are just told to return the form after 30 minutes. We are not given enough time to study it,” said Mrs Cha- ngunda.

The women were supported by the Southern Women Parliamentary Support Trust.

Source : The Herald