By Tabitha Mutenga
The government’s special maize import substitution programme, command agriculture, fell short of its ambitious targets, producing about 30 percent of the country’s maize output in the 2016/17 season, according to official figures.
Last year, President Robert Mugabe’s government introduced the programme, funded to the tune of $192 million by commodities firm Sakunda, in a bid to stop imports of the staple grain at a time when foreign currency shortages have intensified.
Government spent about $400 million on grain imports in 2016 after a poor harvest in the drought-hit 2015/16 season, when the country produced 511 000 tonnes against requirements of 1,8 million tonnes.
The country produced 2,1 million tonnes in the 2016/17 season, with A2 commercial farmers, most of whom were funded through the command agriculture programme, accounting for 643 790 tonnes or just under 30 percent of total output, according to government’s final crop assessment report obtained by The Financial Gazette.
The average yield was 3,68 tonnes per hectare.
Initially targeted to put 400 000 hectares under maize and produce a minimum two million tonnes on an average yield of at least five tonnes per hectare, the command agriculture programme saw only 168 666 hectares being planted.
A total of 1 875 297 hectares were put under maize during the 2016/17 farming season.
Communal farmers, many of whom got $30 million input support under a presidential input scheme also funded by Sakunda, remain the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s maize production, with 770 682 tonnes or 36 percent of total output.
Although the agricultural landscape has changed over the years, cereal production has largely been the preserve of communal farmers, while commercial farmers, have focused on cash crops.
According to a 2017 report by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Report (ZIMVAC), a consortium of government, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations, 80 percent of households in all provinces planted maize.
“The average household production was highest in Mashonaland West, at 739 kilogrammes, and the least in Matabeleland South with 174 kg. Masvingo had the highest increase from 42,3kg to 356 kg and Mashonaland West had the least from 397 kg to 739 kg,” the ZIMVAC report stated.
A1 farmers, whose farm sizes average six hectares, produced 521 588 tonnes, or 24 percent of the total crop. Old resettlement farmers, estimated to be around 76 000, weighed in with 147 068 tonnes, or seven percent.
Small-scale commercial producers and peri-urban farmers produced 64 538 tonnes and 7 680 tonnes, respectively.
Apart from revealing how the command agriculture programme under-performed and missed its lofty targets for 2016/17, the agriculture ministry’s figures also show the extent of under-utilisation of commercial farm land.
A2 farms are on a combined land area of 2,9 million hectares, admittedly not all of it arable or good for maize, but less than six percent of that was put under maize during the last cropping season.
Undeterred by a Cabinet feud over the command programme and criticism from parties including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), government has said it will increase funding for the scheme to nearly $500 million this year.
The programme has been expanded to include other crops such as wheat and soya beans, and livestock.
The IMF has particularly raised alarm over Zimbabwe’s unplanned expenditure and a widening budget deficit, which reached $1,4 billion, 10 percent of GDP, in 2016.
“In some of our discussions with authorities we have noted that some of this command programmes were not in the budget, so there is not enough clear financing for them and that produces a challenge,” an IMF Zimbabwe mission chief, Ana Lucia Coronel, said in a report last month.
“Also, they are not necessarily targeted to the people who do not have other sources of support so we are concerned increasing support to sectors from a government that is still facing a deficit in its account,” she added. Financial Gazette