Govt goes after Command Agriculture defaulters

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CHENGETAI ZVAUYA

Government has engaged debt collectors as it moves to recover money from defaulting farmers under its special agriculture programme, Command Agriculture.

The programme was introduced at the start of the 2016/17 agricultural season to ensure food self-sufficiency following the drought of the previous season.

Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube told Parliament the default rate was at 30 percent. “We are only blacklisting those within that 30 percent from whom we
have not managed to recover anything at all. We are now engaging debt collectors to follow up on the money and also institute civil law to collect the money,” Ncube said.

He said government recovered US$50,2 million in the seasons 2016 to 2018 from 44 617 farmers.

“For the season 2017 to 2018, we had 35 756 farmers and the amount recovered was US$19,7 million. For the wheat planting season of 2017-18, we had  2 270 farmers and what was recovered is US$13,7 million.  Then for the wheat planting season for 2018, we have 74 847 farmers. For soya beans for the season 2017/2018 from 2041 farmers, it is US$1,5 million,” Ncube said.

Government spent over $600 million on the Command Agriculture since inception of the programme in 2016.

Under the programme, government was providing seed, fuel, irrigation and mechanised equipment to mainly smallholder farmers, who, in turn, were supposed to repay government by delivering five tonnes of their produce to the Grain Marketing Board.

According to Treasury data, expenditure on agriculture has been one of the major components driving the southern African country’s unsustainable budget deficit.

Expenditure on the sector reached $1,1 billion as at August 2018, against an annual budget target of $401 million.

Of this, $238 million went towards command agriculture, $263 million towards vulnerable input support scheme and $505 million to grain procurement.

Ncube, who has been vocal about the need to restructure the programme, said that government would limit its exposure and play a supporting role instead.