Zimbabwe’s maize production is still far below the country’s consumption figures, says the Commercial Farmers Union President, Charles Taffs.
Failure by government to come up with agricultural policies that work in the interest of growers would condemn the country to continue importing maize for local consumption, he said. Taffs expressed concern at the huge shortfall between this year’s crop output and the required tonnage to feed the country.
“We are still in distress. Close to 1,3 million hectares of maize were planted during last farming season . But 50 percent of that was planted after December 15, which is too late to realise a decent crop,” he said.
Zimbabwe has for close to 14 years faced grain shortages and it has had to rely on imports to meet the annual human and livestock demand of an estimated 2,4 million metric tonnes.
Taffs urged government to give productive farmers security of tenure to ensure that they have access to financial capital from local institutions to enable them to boost crop production.
“Every single farmer in the country is insecure. The land has been taken from the commercial sector and it has not been given to anybody else. It belongs to the state. People have access to it at the discretion of the State and it can be taken away from them at any time,” he said.
He also urged government to come up with agricultural policies that supported land utilisation as a way of boosting crop production. “Crop diversification has shrunk over the years and farmers are mainly planting maize, tobacco and cotton. We are all aware that cotton is in distress and it is now 50 percent of where it was,” he said.
Taffs said although there had been a huge expansion in small-scale tobacco production, the price for the golden leaf had fallen because the farmers produced a single type of tobacco, which was of poor quality and had no market internationally.
“There is need for us to come up with the basic orderly marketing strategies and agricultural policies where we can demand positions and policies that are in favour of growers,” he said.
According to a recent report by the CFU, about 7,000 farms with title deeds measuring over 11 million hectares have been gazetted for resettlement. By September 2005 only 186 farmers had been paid compensation. Very few additional payments have been made since then.
“Only a handful of farmers were compensated and this was during the Zimbabwean dollar era where the value of that money was not equivalent to the value of the property,” said Taffs, adding that there was need for confidence building to ensure growth in commercial agriculture. “Policy inconsistencies discourage both local and foreign direct investment and the breakdown of the rule of law and the obvious lack of property rights keeps investors away,” he said.