By Ndafadza Madanha
GOVERNMNET will not withdrawal its support for the command agriculture programme until it is satisfied that financial institutions will be able to extend the same support it has given to the sector.
In a bid to tame runaway government expenditure and reduce the fiscal deficit Finance and Economic development minister Mthuli Ncube had indicated that private sector players in particular banks will be incorporated into the command agriculture programme to lessen the burden on government.
However, In a speech read on his behalf at the launch of agricultural youths projects at Mutata business centre last week, Perrence Shiri the minister of Lands, Agriculture,Water, Climate And Rural Resettlement dispelled talk of an imminent end to the command agriculture programme as part of efforts by government to reduce the fiscal deficit.
“Government introduced Command Agriculture, Command Poultry,
Command Livestock and Command Fisheries. Furthermore, Command Tobacco Model is also on course. Command Agriculture is here to stay until such at time when Government is satisfied that the financial institutions can support the same levels of Production without Government intervention .Any premature withdrawal by Government will be like abandoning the ship”.
The command agriculture programme which is in the third year had become one of the major contributors to the widening fiscal deficit which stood at 11% of GDP in 2018 but treasury expects to reduce it to 5% by year end.
As of August 2018 expenditure on agriculture, had reached US$1.1 billion against an annual budget target of US$401 million, while high default rates by beneficiaries of various agricultural programmes has compounded the situation.
Inputs to the command programme are financed by fuel company Sakunda with the government providing guarantees for beneficiaries.
Government says the command programme has achieved its target of putting in place 500 000mt into the strategic grain reserves coupled with support of humanitarian agencies will be able mitigate the effects of EL Nino and support vulnerable households next year.
However, the absence of financial institutions in the scheme has meant has had to shoulder the burden of guaranteeing farmers.
Banks have indicated they are ready to come in and support the agricultural sector once the issue of security tenure has been resolved.