US envoy urges robust agricultural policies to end poverty cycle in Zimbabwe

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By Anna Chibamu

US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols says government must implement a market-based policy to end poverty and hunger that have devastated the country over the past years.

He was speaking at a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) round table discussion with the private sector, academia and civil society on food security and agricultural programmes in Zimbabwe.

Nichols urged government to reform its policies on agriculture and deal with rampant corruption in the sector and the economy as a whole.

“In order to end the cycle of privation, government of Zimbabwe must implement a market-based agriculture policy, fully liberalise the trade of grains and pulses, pay local farmers on par with imported grain costs, put idle farmland on the market, speed resolution of claims owed to commercial farmers, and transition from the Vulnerable Inputs Support Scheme to more transparent support to smallholder farmers.

“Yesterday we heard the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) executives are allocating subsidised grains to millers who are allegedly diverting it to the black market and selling it to neighbouring countries. This is an example of corruption that costs Zimbabweans for food and treasury,” Nichols said.

During a Parliamentary Portfolio committee hearing on Tuesday, some millers’ executives exposed the rot at GMB and private millers.

According to Nichols, the country’s food security continues to deteriorate due to poor rains last season and a declining economic environment in which eight million Zimbabweans are food insecure as half of those will need food assistance this season.

“As we experienced in 2013, 2015, 2017 and yet another last year, unpredictable rainfall patterns affected crop yields, reduced livestock birth rates, increased livestock mortality and reduced dairy cow yields. In addition, Cyclone Idai reversed many gains in the agriculture sector.

“Inspite of all these challenges, Zimbabwe’s agricultural potential is vast and achieving that potential is essential to poverty reduction, food and nutrition security, overall health, and long term prosperity and growth for millions of Zimbabweans.”

USAID Mission Director to Zimbabwe Stefanie Funk chipped in and expressed the need to take a longer-term look at resilience and how to help small scale farmers advance their path to self-reliance.

“We saw livestock farmers improving their livelihoods through pen fattening, fathers acting as role models in a community effort to improve nutrition, we saw farmers in Honde Valley growing bananas for a commercial market,” Funk said.

USAID with other implementing partners are supporting 350 000 Zimbabwean farmers to increase their yields, incomes, food security and self-reliance.

Last year alone, the US government provided US$370 million in assistance to support Zimbabweans in its development activities and the figure includes US$89.9 million to feed over one million people through the end of this lean season.