Govt launches another $2,7bn ‘command agriculture’ scheme

GOVERNMENT yesterday launched an ambitious $2,7 billion agriculture “special” scheme towards the production of wheat at a time the country is struggling to fund its response to the deadly COVID-19, which has crippled the economies of the world’s most powerful countries.

Zimbabwe introduced the Command Agriculture scheme in 2016, which also extended to wheat production, but allegations of corruption and looting by top ruling party politicians rocked the project as it failed to transform the country’s agricultural fortunes.

But yesterday, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga said the government was worried about the continued fall in wheat production in the country due to inadequate irrigation water and electricity as well as high input costs.

Chiwenga said the “special programme” would be funded by commercial bank, CBZ Bank, as they seek to produce 400 000 metric tonnes of wheat grain this year.

“The country requires approximately 400 000 metric tonnes of wheat grain annually and it is currently achieving four metric tonnes per hectare which compares well to the other wheat producing countries,” he said.

“The major challenge in wheat production is due to a number of challenges and among these are inadequate water for irrigation and electricity supply, high input costs and late disbursement of funds which results in late distribution of inputs to farmers under the special programme on wheat, maize and soya beans.”

Government is struggling to fund its response to the deadly coronavirus, while its hospitals are gravely under-equipped and relying on donor funding.

Chiwenga said they were expecting to increase the area planted from24 186 hectares last year to 80 000 hectares for the 2020 winter season.

He said contract farming, which will be financed by commercial banks, will target 65 000 hectares while the private sector is expected to contract growing for 15 000 hectares.

“Based on the target yield of five metric tonnes per hectare, 325 000 metric tonnes are expected from contract growing financed by commercial banks,” Chiwenga added.

“On the other hand, private sector contracted production is targeting an additional 90 000 metric tonnes at an average yield of six metric tonnes per hectare. The combined output of415 000 metric tonnes is expected to surpass our national demand per year by 15 000 metric tonnes.”

Chiwenga said Cabinet had already approved and announced pre-planting wheat producer price of $14 143 per metric tonne with a view to enticing farmers to increase the hectarage under wheat.

He also said the Cabinet approved that there be no interruption of electricity supplies so that irrigation was not disturbed at farms.

Chiwenga said inputs would be provided to registered farmers using the Grain Marketing Board network of depots and the process would be expedited to enable farmers to plant in the optimum planting period.

He said this “special programme will alleviate starvation in the country”.

From 2016, government financed Command Agriculture through Sakunda Holdings, fronted by businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei, to the tune of US$3 billion, but government admitted to rampant looting of inputs by farmers and top government officials.

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