ZIMBABWE Agricultural Society (ZAS) has said a special economic zone (SEZ) should be designated for the agricultural sector, as it needs to be looked at as a value chain to the economy.
BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
Speaking at an agricultural breakfast meeting yesterday in Harare, ZAS chief executive officer, Anxious Masuka said agriculture was the backbone of the economy and needed to be treated as such.
“Policy must be an injection. An injection would be painful perhaps at times, but the outcome of that injection is always something good. So to me it is the role of policy to give direction, but when policy becomes a cost that business ought to integrate saying ‘this burden’ then it is not just policy, but bureaucracy,” he said.
“I remember raising the food-to-seed aspect that agriculture has not been taken on board as we look at the SEZs. They are designated physical areas not value chains whereas everyone understands that in order to sustain Zimbabwe into the future we need to look at it [agriculture] from a value chain perspective. Alas, at a policy level we are again miles away.”
Masuka said the authorities needed to change their thinking on how they looked at agriculture not just as a sector, but as a value chain towards economic growth.
“Our thinking must not be limited by what has happened to us historically, it must be limited by those things we define for ourselves in the long-term such as what we need and what we want to do,” he said.
According to research from ZAS, the production capacity of the agricultural sector has dropped by over 50% to date since the 90s.
Part of the reasons behind the decline include a shift from traditional crops to cash crops as cash returns are usually faster, failure to fully harness the water in the country and the continued use of outdated technology in agricultural production.
Cash crops are causing the government to lose millions of dollars. For example, in the Mbare vegetable market alone, the government is losing an estimated $50 million annually as smallholder farmers bring their produce to sell on the informal market.
As such, agriculture contributes 15% to 18% of the gross domestic product down from an average contribution of between 20% and 30% before 2010.
In response to Masuka, deputy minister of Agriculture responsible for cropping, Davis Marapira said the government has already done a lot for the sector and that the banking sector should increase its financing of farming implements.
“It is unfortunate that Agribank is not part of my parastatals under the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, but I think Agribank should change their thinking,” he said.
“By saying they only finance up to 35% of money in their books to farmers my thinking, I am also a farmer, Agribank should go as far as 75% in the financing inputs and other implements in the agriculture sector.”