Home » Governance » Govt Support Pays Off for Farmers

Sometime in 2008, President Mugabe started the Presidential Well Wishers Special Agricultural Input Scheme in a move that was received with scepticism, with some calling it political grandstanding.But the President had noticed that the agricultural sector, spurred on by the land reforms, had not risen to expected levels due to serious challenges faced by farmers in Zimbabwe.

The plethora of challenges included perennial droughts, expensive inputs such as fertilizers and seeds and shortage of draught power during land preparation.

The whole idea was to put in place an input scheme in support of small-scale farmers at subsistence level and ensure food security at the household level, then nationally.

Speaking during the launch of the scheme in 2011, President Mugabe said: “Any household that attains self sustenance finds a fresh meaning to its life. Food security at household and national levels gives content to the great historical social transformation we embarked on through the instrumentality of the land reform programme.”

During the 2011-12 agricultural season, the scheme benefited 712 400 households countrywide with inputs worth US$27 million.

Farmers received 10kg of maize seed and areas that have low rainfall patterns received millet, sorghum, cowpeas, peanuts and sugar beans.

There were also fertilizers and lime for areas that have poor soils.

The programme has, however, grown over the years, with the number of beneficiaries doubling to a whopping 1,6 million families in the 2013-14 agricultural season.

The families received inputs that are enough to plant at least 0,5 hectares each.

Farmers received 10 kilogrammes of maize seed, 50kg compound D, 50kg ammonium nitrate and 50kg lime.

The farmers put a whopping 2,2 million hectares under cereal crops, with the staple maize accounting for the bulk of the hectarage.

The Presidential Well Wishers Input Scheme contributed US$180 million for the season with the hectarage increasing from the 1,9 million recorded last season.

According to the first round crop and livestock assessment report 2013-2014, the hectarage under maize rose to 1 655 366 hectares in the 2013-2014 season against 1 408 329 hectares in the 2012-2013 season.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made hailed President Mugabe’s call to adopt a strategy that looked at food security at the household level.

“Most importantly, it is the President’s call to have production looked at the family, the household level that had a big influence in the hectarage increasing. The massive increase in hectarage and the anticipated high production even had His Excellency, the President making reference that the crop looks like what it was in 1980, 81 thereabouts.

“It is the same strategy of people first that saw us achieving food self sufficiency in the 1980’s that was adopted this season and certainly we should not go wrong when the second assessment report showing the yield and production figures.”

According to the crop assessment, the increase in hectarage under maize was largely driven by gains in the communal sector covering 61 percent of the area put under maize production with A1 farmers contributing 18 percent of maize planted.

There were also increases in land under maize in the A1, A2, peri-urban and small-scale commercial farming sectors.

The latest figures have given credence to the belief that for Zimbabwe to ensure food security there is g need for Government to support farmers, especially communal and A1 farmers.

Agro-economists have also acknowledged the positive contribution by the input schemes towards the improved hectarage that could ensure that Zimbabwe records surplus grain deliveries this season.

Economist Mr Peter Gambara acknowledged that communal farmers need empowerment so that the country achieves food self-sufficiency, first, at household level, and at national level.

“Even in the past communal farmers contributed more than 60 percent of grain deliveries to the Grain Marketing Board while commercial farmers concentrated on commercial crops like tobacco.

“Government, especially the President, made the right decision to distribute inputs to the communal farmers. Government does not have the money to subsidise inputs especially to the other farmers who end up selling them on the parallel market.

“We do not have to go through the embarrassment of importing maize from Zambia or Malawi, so if the farmers are supported then the country can grow its own food.”

He said the programme should continue until communal and A1 farmers are able to buy their own inputs because Government will still need to feed them when there are food shortages.

His counterpart, Mr Midway Bhunu however said while it is noble to empower the farmers through subsidized or free inputs, the long-term solution would be to empower them so that they take farming as a business.

“There should be a market based approach because there is really nothing free in agriculture because at least 80 percent goes to transport but Government and its social partners should subsidise the inputs.

“When farmers get inputs for free they will not take farming seriously. So we need to introduce demand led approaches where the farmer understands that he could earn a living through agriculture,” he said.

According to another agro-economist, Mr Prince Kuipa, although there was an increase in the hectarage this season, it was still too early to predict a bumper harvest because some areas suffered from leaching, flooding and long dry spells.

He however, acknowledged the importance of empowering the farmer with inputs such as seed and fertilizers that had been too expensive for communal farmers.

“The support is needed and we have been lobbying extensively for farmers to be assisted and we hope the inputs they received helped increase the production levels on the farms.

“There is no doubt that the support to agriculture is necessary. Governments in Africa should also implement the Maputo Declaration where leaders agreed to put aside 10 percent of the national budget to support agriculture,” he said.

Mr Kuipa said the declaration needs to be put into practice to support not only farmers with inputs but to cover extension services, research and marketing strategies including capacitating the GMB.

He however, called on other sectors of the economy to support the President’s effort for the growth and development of agriculture in Zimbabwe.

Empowerment of farmers has been successful through the Farm Input Subsidy Programme introduced in Malawi in the 2005-2006 agricultural season where it was credited for reviving agriculture in the country.

According to research by Karl Pauw and James Thurlow in the Malawi Strategy Support Programme Note 18 titled Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme: Where do we go from here? The programme FISP is a tool “to raise crop productivity and reduce poverty and food insecurity.”

“As a country with limited resources, a high population density, a large agriculture sector that is predominantly rain-fed and frequent droughts and floods, Malawi has always been vulnerable to food insecurity.

“Malawi also has a long history of subsidizing or providing free inputs, particularly chemical fertilizer, mainly to promote maize cultivation. Past subsidies programmes have varied in scope and scale, but importantly, prior to FISP, the country only produced surplus maize when subsidy programmes were universally targeted… ”

Currently in its eighth year, Pauw and Thurlow noted that there has been dramatic yield improvement because of the programme while maize land has expanded indicating that production increases were driven by yield improvements.

The yields improved from 1.3 tonnes to an average of 2,7 tonnes per hectare.

This has also seen maize production exceeding domestic demand.

In their conclusion, Pauw and Thurlow argue that while there was talk about FISP exit strategies and policy alternatives available, evidence was not convincing enough to dismiss the programme.

“In fact, there are many good reasons not to dispose of FISP, the most important of which is the historical evidence of recurring periods of food deficits and the fact that FISP had been downscaled in a time of high fertilizer costs and a weak exchange rate.

“The Malawian government faces a unique challenge of finding itself in a ‘public spending trap’ where reduced spending on FISP is politically and socially risk.”

Source : The Herald