Pay Local Farmers First before importing-government urged

Emilia Zindi: Agriculture Editor

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Parliament has called on government to first pay farmers who delivered their maize to Grain Marketing Board depots throughout the country before availing funds for grain importation as the country prepares for possibilities of poor harvests in the 2014/15 season due to erratic rains.

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The call was made during parliamentary debate on Wednesday where members of the August House expressed fears of serious food shortages due to poor rainfall with most crops wilting in some parts of the country.

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Crops wilt as the rains have disappeared prompting government to start preparing sourcing of grain.

Crops wilt as the rains have disappeared prompting government to start preparing sourcing of grain.

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Hundreds of farmers who delivered their maize are still owed more than $50 million by the GMB with treasury yet to release the required funds.

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Goromonzi North constituency Member of Parliament Cde Beatrice Nyamupinga asked the leader of the House Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa on the state of preparedness by government following the announcement by Meteorological Department that the rain season had ended.

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“We have heard from the weather experts that the rain season has just ended with a few areas still expected to receive erratic rains which are no longer significant to crops. In this regard this is a clear sign that we are going to have poor harvests this season as most crops have wilted before maturity. We want to know the state of preparedness of government to make sure food will be available before the situation gets out of hand,’’ said Cde Nyamupinga.

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In response Cde Mnangagwa said meetings had already been held in regard to that effect with the Minister of Finance Cde Patrick Chinamasa having been tasked to make arrangements for funds to be availed for purposes of grain purchases.

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It was this response that irked some parliamentarians who questioned the logic behind availing funds to purchase grain from outside when local farmers were yet to be paid.

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“If the minister of Finance is prepared to avail funds to buy grain from outside when on the other hand failed to secure funds to pay our local farmers who delivered their maize, where is government going to get that money from,’’ queried Kambuzuma member of parliament Mr Willias Madzimure.

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Mutoko South Member of Parliament Cde David Chapfika however suggested that funds made available in the national budget for cloud seeding amounting to $400 000 be immediately directed towards cloud seeding so that crops could be saved.

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“We have in our national budget set aside $400 000 for cloud seeding. Why can we not use that money now so that we save the crops requiring rains instead of directing that money towards importation of grain,’’ said Cde Chapfika.

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However, Cde Mnangagwa advised the house that cloud seeding could not be done anyhow as there were certain types of clouds required for that exercise to be carried out. In areas where such clouds had been experience, cloud seeding had been carried out.

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“Cloud seeding can only be done where there are clouds for that purpose. We have already done cloud seeding in some areas,’’ said Cde Mnangagwa.

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Minister of Finance Cde Chinamasa advised the house that the future viability of the agriculture sector and its competitiveness over other countries would critically hinge on maximising yields per hectare.

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Cde Chinamasa said this required government to pay attention in areas such as timely availability of affordable financing to farmers, irrigation development as well as research and extension services among other critical components.

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He said Zimbabwe was a sub-tropical country with one rainy season which runs from November to March, receiving about 657mm of rain per year with more than 80 percent of rural households living in natural regions three, four and five.

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“The rainfall pattern in these areas is erratic, making dry-land cultivation risky and chances of food insecurity high. Global climate changes have implied greater variability, exacerbating recurrences of drought and floods situations,’’ he said.

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He said it was against this background that investment in irrigation infrastructure was an essential mitigatory factor that guarantees productivity and farm output with an estimated of more than $580 million required for that purpose across all the provinces.