Zimbabwe was once southern Africa's breadbasket.
But today it is a basket case, where people depend on handouts for food.
For more than 10 consecutive years since President Robert Mugabe’s government embarked on a land reform program targeting white farmers, Zimbabwe has had to import food to avert hunger as its new farmers cannot produce enough.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the treasury had released $20 million to farmers to buy inputs - seeds, fertilizer and other farming materials. At the same news conference, Minister of Agriculture Joseph Made said a third of the country’s planted crop for the 2012 season was a write-off, since farmers did not have irrigation systems and were too poor to buy required inputs on time.
"It is clear if you bring inputs late in the season you cannot take advantage. Cropping is a function of time," said Made. "The season does not wait. I hope in what we are doing are correcting the situation so that never again are the inputs are delayed…. The second point is that when we are talking of agriculture farmers suffer the vagaries of weather. That you cannot control. The best is to assist farmers by development of irrigation."
Zimbabwe had plenty of food until 2000. Since then it has been a different story since President Mugabe’s government launched its land reform program. Almost all white commercial farmers were replaced by inexperienced farmers, mainly supporters of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. It is these farmers that Made wants helped in erecting irrigation systems to water their crops.
The deposed white farmers had irrigation systems, but the new farmers mostly destroyed them when they took over the farms, often by force.
"There is a move towards market-related solutions towards agriculture, bearing in mind our incapacity as a state to look fully after our people," said Finance Minister Biti. "This is a move we are making which reflected in this program we are launching today."
It remains to be seen if these untrained farmers are able to survive on their own without being assisted by the government, as has been the case since the land reform started.
Critics have said Zimbabwe's government should have trained the farmers before allocating them land to them. Tuesday, when asked to reveal how farmers had performed and whether Zimbabwe needed to import food in 2012, Agriculture Minister Made said exact figures are still not available, but production will not be what was expected.
"I know you might be looking for [a] specific figure. You have to wait a little bit. That has to be briefed to [the] cabinet first. But of the 1.7 million hectares that were planted, 500,000 hectares will be a write off," said Made.
The $20 million in aid to farmers announced Tuesday is meant to increase size of the winter crop, especially wheat. The southern African country requires 406,000 metric tons of wheat annually to meet local demands. Made said the funding would result in wheat production increasing to 76,000 metric tons.
The United Nations estimates that at least 1.5 million people need food aid in Zimbabwe. With the latest revelations, the number of people who need food assistance is almost certain to increase.