Preparations for the 2020/21 farming season are in dire state with most farmers yet to complete land preparation and sourcing of inputs due to high costs and lack of access to capital, 263Chat Business has established.
Despite weather experts anticipating improved rainfall this season the cost structures within the production value chain remain far from satisfactory for local farmers.
Most farmers are struggling to afford the average cost of hiring a tractor for tillage as tractor owners are allegedly charging up to US$ 500 per hectare.
In an exclusive interview with 263Chat, Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) president, Abdul Nyathi said the pricing of inputs in foreign currency by producers and retailers has cast doubt over early planting.
“Farmers are not yet ready because of the cost of what they should be doing by now. For Instance when it comes to land preparation and tillage we can’t start as it is. We can’t afford to plough a hectare. Right now if you want to hire a tractor you can’t pay anything less than US$ 500 to till one hectare. When it comes to fertilizers, the prices are unheard of. Worse still the cost is all in United States Dollars and no one of us has the USD because no farmer was ever paid for their produce in USD,” said Nyathi.
A dismal start to the 2020/21 farming season pose serious economic consequences to the country’s economy which relies nearly 20 percent to its GDP from the sector.
The situation has been worsened by the fact that small holder farmers who normally use ox-drawn ploughs for tillage have seen the quality of their herds deteriorate due to consecutive droughts.
“Animals are in bad state due to the drought situation of the past two seasons. So in short, the state of preparedness is neither here nor there, it’s next to nil,” Nyathi said.
The development comes after government earlier this year abandoned the command agriculture program which had been providing farmers with free inputs only to reimburse the state upon harvesting since 2016.
But with banks now bankrolling the new program dubbed Smart Agriculture, farmers have been raising concerns over stricter bank conditions for borrowing.
“The season is upon us but we don’t have inputs. Most importantly we don’t have money. As an example cotton growers who we know were being paid in groceries instead of cash so as we speak they don’t have cash to buy inputs,” said Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Shadreck Makombe.
Most farmers suffered heavy losses last season due to a combination of drought and pest attacks on their crops.
However banks have been reluctant to borrow farmers who are yet to be cleared from their loan books.
“You might be aware that most farmers failed to reap anything last year due to a serious drought and this led to failure to repay loans. So what is happening now is that CBZ is saying it can’t give us loans since many farmers have not repaid loans due to previous season drought,” said Makombe.
With Zimbabwe’s economy set to shrink by 7.4 percent this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, agriculture will be critical to any prospects of a speedy recovery.