Govt calls for fair game in contract farming

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BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
FACTORS militating against contracted farmers’ ability to repay loans go beyond delinquency, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development deputy minister Davis Marapira said last week.

While contributing to debate in Parliament, Marapira said poor rainfall and lack of irrigation facilities ranked among factors affecting contracted farmers.

Some contractors also delayed delivering inputs to farmers, said the minister.

Many farmers have struggled to access funding from banks, and they have turned to contractors to fund production.

Under the arrangement, contracted farmers are obliged to sell produce to their funders, who deduct their money and give farmers what is due to them.

However, there have been reports of side marketing, which has prejudiced contractors.

Such reports have been prevalent in cotton and tobacco sectors.

“The challenge is not about giving out inputs and non-repayment,” Marapira told legislators.

“We have to look at a lot of factors. We have seen that we have erratic rainfall and that is why the current government policy is focusing on irrigation development. The other challenge we are having is that our contractors are not giving inputs to our farmers on time, which again affects production, especially where the rainfall is good.

“We have to look at all those factors before we can conclude that the provision of inputs to farmers is bad. It should be done properly with every farmer getting his or her inputs at the right time and plant at the correct time.”

Many experts agree that irrigation development would improve farmers’ capacity to deliver crops and help them repay debts.

In a recent interview with our sister paper the Zimbabwe Independent, Agriculture secretary John Bhasera said rehabilitation of irrigation facilities would be accelerated to help the country deal with climate change and poor rainfall.

“Accelerated irrigation rehabilitation and development programmes are the panacea to climate proofing the agricultural sector, which is so vulnerable to climate change effects and variabilities,” Bhasera said.

“A two-pronged approach, thus: Rehabilitation (quick fix programme) and development (full kit) have been explored and deployed since 2020. Quick fix entails rehabilitation of non-functional irrigation, while full kit involves establishing new irrigation conveyance infrastructure, capitalising on the numerous water bodies the country is endowed with.

“The ministry is implementing the Accelerated National Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Programme aiming to increase area under functional irrigation from
175 000ha (hectares) in 2020 to 350 000ha by year 2025. Flagship programmes such as Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme co-founded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, OFID [OPEC Fund for International Development] and the government of Zimbabwe, Turnkey Irrigation Programmes, NEAPS [National Enhanced Agricultural Productivity Scheme] supported by Maka Resources and CBZ Bank and Pedstock 1 and 2 Facilities administered through the Agricultural Finance Corporation, are aimed at harnessing the country’s water bodies potential of irrigating over two million hectares. An additional 6 000ha under construction will be ready for by 2022 winter season.”

In his contribution to Parliament last week, Marapira said the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was not a monopoly.

“GMB is not the sole buyer of maize. As such, it does not occupy a monopoly position. Any contractor is free to sponsor and contract grain production and, in turn, purchase that contracted grain,” he said.

“What the GMB is doing through the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement is specifically to police and make sure that no one is short-changed within the process of grain marketing. We have a lot of companies who are contracting farmers. They should only buy what they have contracted. We have the government through the Presidential Input Scheme. They have given us a lot of inputs and those inputs should be delivered to the
GMB.

“At the same time, we have government through the agro-yield programmes. They finance a lot of inputs. If there is no control of marketing into contractors and marketing into GMB, there will be rampant side marketing within the country.”

He added: “Every financier has the right to protect where he or she has financed. As government, if we finance certain facilities within the agricultural fraternity, we have the right to protect but we will not go to a farmer and take everything.”

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