Zimbabwe: Small-scale farmers struggle to invest in farming (by Zenzele Ndebele, for Farm Radio Weekly in Zimbabwe)

| November 8, 2010

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Farmers in Zimbabwe used to complain about a shortage of land. Since the land reform program, most small-scale farmers now face another challenge. They are struggling to purchase farm inputs.

Mrs. Mavis Ndlovu is from the Matabeleland South province of Zimbabwe. She says, “The major challenge I am facing now as a farmer is accessing farming inputs. The rainy season has begun but I do not have money to buy seed and fertilizer.”

With rising inflation, most small-scale farmers cannot afford fertilizer, seed and pesticides. Ten kilos of maize seed costs between 13 and 15 American dollars. The farmers worry that without funds to purchase inputs, they will not be able to operate their farming businesses.

Recently the Ministry of Finance in Zimbabwe announced the release of 30 million American dollars for the 2010-2011 agricultural season. The funds will be distributed to smallholder farmers to enable them buy farm inputs. Joseph Made, Minister of Agriculture, says “”All inputs distributed this year are not for free. They … will be paid for … either through a voucher system or food for work programme.”

But Mrs. Ndlovu does not believe that these funds will benefit small-scale farmers such as herself. She talks about her experience as a farmer in recent years, saying, “Last year was not a good year and I harvested nothing. The government should provide us with seed and fertilizer. We always hear about the help offered to farmers on radio but I am yet to see someone who has benefited.”

Mr. Solomon Linda is a small-scale farmer from Manama Gwanda South, about 200 kilometres south of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. He says, “This is not the first time I have heard of such funds being released … for the purpose of re-capacitating farmers ahead of the farming season.” He worries that even if the funds are released to the Ministry of Agriculture, the money might not reach farmers like him. He says, “This gives me no hope that I will ever benefit from the funds.”

Mr. Linda says that a lack of information also makes it difficult for farmers to benefit.  He says, “… most of us are in the communal areas where such information on funds reaches us after a long time.” He believes farmers often find out too late, declaring, “By then the funds have already been released and in the end the funds do not reach us at all.”

Another farmer, Mr. Jameson Nyoni from Gwanda, called for government to ensure the funds benefit deserving people, and that the process is transparent. He explained that most small-scale farmers are not well prepared. “Farmers in my area cannot claim to be prepared for this farming season due to lack of farming inputs and funds to initiate their farming activities.”

The Minister of Finance, Mr. Tendai Biti, says the government is better prepared for this farming year than in previous years.

Media reports in Zimbabwe have indicated that the money will be distributed in two separate streams.  Eight million American dollars will benefit 100,000 vulnerable households in areas not supported by donor agencies. Beneficiaries will access inputs through a voucher system after participating in a government program to rehabilitate roads. In the second stream, twenty-two million American dollars will support 300,000 small-scale and old resettlement farmers with farm inputs at subsidized prices.

The government and donors are currently identifying beneficiaries. Mrs. Ndlovu hopes she is among them.