HARARE, June 9 (The Source) – The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) has asked Parliament to consider lowering electricity tariffs for the agriculture sector by at least 50 percent next season to improve production after drought this year reduced output by over 30 percent.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation has forecast Zimbabwe’s maize production for the 2014/15 season at 950,000 tonnes, over a third lower than the previous season due to a prolonged dry spell.
Last year, Zimbabwe’s maize output was at 1,456 million tonnes, 82 percent more than the 798,600 tonnes in the 2012/13 season. It also achieved its highest total cereal production in five years at 1,7 million metric tonnes.
Zimbabwe, which is battling to recover from a decade of economic contraction which ended in 2009, is struggling to finance its productive sectors in the absence of foreign direct investment and aid. Last month, it announced that it would import 700,000 tonnes of maize, which will cost the cash strapped government in excess of $200 million, to avert a food crisis following the drought that affected crops in most parts of the country.
CFU deputy director Marc Wilson on Tuesday told a Parliamentary committee on Millennium Development Goals that water and electricity were the high cost drivers which need to be reviewed.
“If the costs of production can be reduced this will result in a significant increase in the amount of maize, wheat and soya beans produced. A reduction of 55 percent in commercial tariffs is required,” he said.
“Introduce a discounted electricity tariff for agriculture customers, as was the case prior to dollarisation.”
Analysts have, however, argued that the cash strapped government cannot afford to give subsidies. Over the last 15 years, primary production in staple crops has relied mainly on donor and government support – creating a dependency syndrome on farmers.
Critics blame President Robert Mugabe’s land grab at the turn of the millennium to address historical land imbalances for the sharp decline in agriculture production, while the government in return blames successive droughts and lack of funding.
Wilson also told the Parliamentarians that there was need to protect local farmers and other agro-processing industries from unfair competition from imported finished products by putting in place a surtax on all imported finished products.
Waves of imports mainly from neighbouring South Africa and the region often find their way into the country through both legal and illegal channels.