OLD GUARD: Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa signs his letter of appointment as President Robert Mugabe looks on. Mr Chinamasa is largely credited for introducing the US dollar and the rand as the currencies of choice in his first short stint as finance minister in 2008-09. He was also the justice minister in the unity government. Picture: EVANS TADISWA
OLD GUARD: Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa signs his letter of appointment as President Robert Mugabe looks on. Mr Chinamasa is largely credited for introducing the US dollar and the rand as the currencies of choice in his first short stint as finance minister in 2008-09. He was also the justice minister in the unity government. Picture: EVANS TADISWA

HARARE — Zimbabwe, hamstrung by poor productive capacity in agriculture, on Wednesday unveiled a $161m package to support small-scale and communal farmers.

The Southern African country, once touted as the region’s breadbasket, has seen maize, wheat and cotton output drop in the past few years. The maize and fertiliser manufacturing companies have been hit by viability constraints as a result of increased power outages and capitalisation constraints.

Experts have blamed the chaotic land reform programme that President Robert Mugabe’s government embarked upon in 1999.

The exercise — which turned bloody in some instances — displaced the mostly white productive farmers whose prime land was parcelled out to black inexperienced and poorly capacitated farmers.

In an effort to stem the losses in productivity, new Zimbabwe Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Wednesday said the government was targeting 1 mostly communal and smallholder farmers, under a $161m input-support scheme.

The bid to strengthen the farmers’ capacity also appeared to have been extended to underpin the government’s position ruling out imports of genetically produced foods.

"We will not allow GMOs (genetically modified organisms). We want to protect our own (agriculture sector)," Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said on Wednesday.

In addition to this, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has shown willingness to avail a further $19.25m to support smallholder farmers, Mr Chinamasa said.

The FAO facility, to which several development partners including those from the UK, US and Brazil have contributed, will support 77,800 small-scale farmers.

The input-support scheme will come in the form of fertilisers and seed with a value of about $150. The farmers will have the option of either taking up crop support or livestock support through subsidies to cater for vaccines and stock feed.

"We have also resolved to pay arrears to input suppliers of fertiliser and seed … to ensure that they continue supporting agriculture," Mr Chinamasa said.

The government owes seed and fertiliser manufacturers $11.8m although Mr Made and Mr Chinamasa said on Wednesday that the government had started paying back the companies.

Although the production support subsidy has been channelled toward the farmers, Mr Made said this was the last time such a facility would be extended to farmers.

He said it was preferable to subsidise input manufacturers so that farmers purchase the inputs at lower prices.

"The real anchor is going to be mechanisation and irrigation. This is in line with a cabinet decision to focus on developing irrigation," Mr Made said.

Zimbabwe has had successive poor rainy seasons in the past few years. The dire situation, which has left most households facing hunger, has forced the government to resort to grain imports.