Zimbabwean farmers can now use livestock and crops as collateral to access inputs such as seeds and fertilizers under a $210 million loan program launched by the government.

The loan program is the latest effort by the government to boost food production and ensure food security in Zimbabwe. All farmers can apply for the loans. But Zimbabwe Farmer's Union Director Paul Zakariya told VOA communal farmers, who produced the bulk of Zimbabwe's food before the fall in production, are unlikely to meet the collateral requirements. "We don't have any cattle to talk about in the communal areas, any meaningful population of cattle to talk about, so that means communal farmers may not necessarily benefit out of this," he said.

Zakariya says that unlike previous programs to help farmers, where the government doled out farm equipment and inputs, this one is administered through the banks. On approval of a loan application, the bank gives the farmer a voucher, which will be used to collect the inputs. Critics of previous plans say they benefitted supporters of President Robert Mugabe's former ruling party Zanu-PF.

Zakariya says the fact that the farmers have to provide collateral may discourage past practices where those who received them sold the inputs.

Beneficiaries of Zimbabwe's land reform program, who took over white owned farms, cannot, according to Zakariya, use that land as collateral. So, he says, they must have other property, such as houses, in their names. "Title deeds where bonds can be registered, those do offer security because you can actually take the title deeds to a property valuer and they can tell you the value of your property," he said.

Zakariya expressed concern that the scheme has been launched too close to the cropping season. By the time banks go through the process of verifying who owns what and studying their proposals, the cropping season could be well under way.  "If we had started around June processing applications and giving vouchers to farmers only for farmers to start taking delivery of their inputs around this time it would have made a lot of sense," he said.

He also says that while the facility is a welcome boost, it falls way short of the more than one billion dollars required to revive Zimbabwe's agricultural sector.

The shortage of agricultural inputs during Zimbabwe's economic meltdown, as well as unseasonable droughts reduced the country once known as the breadbasket of the region to dependence on food aid. In another effort to improve food security, the international community has made available a $70 million input scheme targeted at the most vulnerable farmers.