Government pushes for early crop planting

Perence Shiri

Government will begin moving agricultural inputs for Command Agriculture to various parts of the country this week as it pushes farmers to plant early to maximise on normal rains forecast for the next three months.

Logistical arrangements for delivery of inputs under the Presidential Input Support Scheme — expected to benefit 300 000 households — are being finalised. 

In a major shift since the beginning of Command Agriculture in 2016, this year’s $2,8 billion kitty will be administered by banks to promote transparency.

Weather experts believe the showers that were received last week in some parts of the country were a precursor to the rainy season. Normal to above-normal rains are forecast from October to December, while normal to below-normal rains are expected in the first three months of next year.

In a statement on Friday, Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri said distribution of inputs under Command Agriculture will start on Monday.

“The process of registration up to approval should take seven days or less. The programme will avail inputs through an electronic voucher system administered through the bank. Inputs will be provided at district level through suppliers, stockists and agents as will be advised by the bank during the contracting process. Farmers will start accessing inputs on the 7th of October 2019.”

Government, Minister Shiri said, had partnered Agribank, CBZ Bank, Women’s Bank and Stanbic to finance maize and soya bean production under Command Agriculture, which has since been extended to the 2019/2020 summer cropping season to give a helping hand to “infant farmers”, especially after last year’s drought.

More than 210 000 hectares and 30 000 hectares will be put under maize and soya beans respectively under the programme. He said under the CBZ facility, farmers will receive funding for production without collateral if they satisfy stipulated requirements at their respective Agritex district offices.

“After that initial process, the bank will contact all contracted farmers for accounts opening and processing of their financial contract at the nearest CBZ branch. 

“Collateral is not required as the verification would have been done by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement. 

“The tenure of the loan is 270 days at an interest rate of 10,5 percent per annum and an upfront fee of 2,25 percent. The upfront fees are part of the loan draw-down.” 

Most provinces are already preparing to take delivery of the critical inputs. South African-based agricultural economist and consultant Mr Peter Gambara said farmers in some areas can begin planting this month unlike the traditional planting period of early November. Mr Gambara said crops planted early have a higher chance of reaching maturity than those planted late.

In his State of the Nation Address (Sona) at the official opening of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Government had set aside $1,8 billion for the production of strategic crops such as maize, soya beans and cotton.

“Of this amount, $567,4 million has been allocated for the provision of inputs for vulnerable households and $332 million to ensure the procurement of inputs for cotton production. 

“A total of $968 million will augment the $2,8 billion put forward by banks and the private sector to support the Command Agriculture Programme,” he said. 

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