Farmers will not be forced to join the command agriculture scheme to be spearheaded by the Zimbabwe government through which it is aiming to produce two million tons of maize, the country's staple food, from 400,000 hectares of land for the next three summer cropping seasons, says Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa stated this Wednesday as stakeholders in the agriculture supply chain and banking sector threw their support behind the programme, which is aimed to boosting food self-sufficiency and cutting imports.

Under the programme, envisaged to cost around 5.0 million US dollars in the next three years, the government will supply agricultural inputs and equipment on a cost-recovery basis to farmers who register to participate.

In return, the government expects the farmers to produce a minimum of five tons of maize per hectare to be sold to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB). Those who produce more than five tons per hectare will be allowed to keep the extra.

"No one is going to be forced into the programme. It is on a voluntary basis," Vice-President Mnangagwa said. "The response so far has been overwhelming such that we do not need to persuade people to join the programme."

Zimbabwe requires at least 1.4 million tons of maize per year, with an additional 500,000 tonnes required for its strategic grain reserves.

Mnangagwa said with land in the hands of locals and abundant water bodies, the country no longer had excuses for failing to produce enough grain for its needs. "The only thing that we do not control is rain and we have a lot of water bodies that are not being used," he said.

Additional funding has been provided to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate to de-silt rivers and build new dams, he said.

At least five countries -- Belarus, Brazil, China, India and Russia -- are expected to support the programme with provision of agriculture machinery, Mnangagwa said, adding that the government on its part was also reviewing water and electricity tariffs to make them more viable for farmers.

Negotiations with the private sector for financial support were also underway, VP Mnangagwa said.

Agriculture value chain stakeholders such as seed houses, fertilizer and agro-chemical producers expressed their readiness to support and ensure the success of the programme.

Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Joseph Made said the seed houses had more than 40,000 tonnes of seed while fertilizer manufacturers said they required assistance in the importation of raw materials to produce more.

Zimbabwe, once touted as the region's breadbasket, has over the years failed to produce enough maize for its national requirement, forcing the country to import, because of poor planning and natural hazards such as droughts in some cases.