Govt negotiates with banks to fund $500mln command agriculture programme

Govt negotiates with banks to fund $500mln command agriculture programme

HARARE, August 17 (The Source) – Zimbabwe will borrow from private banks to finance the importation of farming equipment from Brazil, Belarus, Russia and India under its ambitious Command Agriculture programme aimed at enhancing grain production in the country, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe last week launched the $500 million programme, which aims to produce two million tonnes of maize on 400,000 hectares of land. Under the programme, 2,000 farmers will be given inputs, irrigation and mechanised equipment but will be required to give five tonnes per hectare to government as repayment.

A former major grain producer, the southern African nation has become reliant on imports from neighbours -Zambia and South Africa- as well as Brazil after grain production plummeted following a controversial land reform programme at the turn of the century and successive droughts.

In February, the government announced the country would need to import about 700,000 tonnes of maize to plug a grain deficit after another failed season that left at least three million people in need of food aid.

Mnangagwa told journalists after a meeting with seed houses, fertilizer manufacturers, representatives of farmers unions and the bankers association that government was in negotiations for loans to finance the programme.

“The programme is not being run on the budget (so) we are raising funds from the private sector and we are quite advanced at securing these funds. This is a cost recovery programme, nothing is going to be given for free,” said Mnangagwa.

“We cannot put a figure now. We are well advanced in negotiating such facilities and many private companies are coming forward to make offers because it is guaranteed that they will have a return from the loans that they may advance.”

Mnangagwa said as part of the programme, government was also looking at reviewing water and electricity tariffs for farmers to reduce the cost of production for farmers.

Zimbabwe requires about 1,5 million metric tonnes of maize annually to meet demand.

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, who was also present at the meeting, said seed houses and fertilizer manufacturers had indicated that they have adequate capacity to meet the country’s requirements.

“The fertilizer companies have indicated that they are currently sitting on 60,000 metric tonnes of top dressing fertilizers and in the region of 40,000 metric tonnes of compounds, which is sufficient for us to kick start the programme. What might be important is that they would like to be assisted in terms of acquisition of raw materials and payments to foreign suppliers,” said Made.