Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Editorial Comment: Local Banks Must Support Farmers in Zimbabwe
June 14, 2016
Zimbabwe Herald

Recently a number of foreign companies have put together financing packages for the agriculture sector. This has seen farmers receiving credit support in the form of tractors and irrigation equipment.

It is the level of confidence shown by the foreign firms in our farmers at a time when our own financial institutions have been reluctant to support the agriculture sector that we find shocking. The banks and other institutions have cited the failure by farmers to repay loans extended to them in the past as the major excuse for not playing ball.

It would be futile for us to regard agriculture as the backbone of the economy when our farmers are not mechanised. Even President Mugabe last week emphasised the importance of productivity and the extent to which it is key to any economic turnaround. He noted that the thrust should be on ensuring food was produced on the farms and for this to happen serious investment was needed in the sector.

While the support from foreign firms that have extended tractors and irrigation equipment to our farmers is most welcome and appreciated, we are disappointed by the attitude of local companies, especially financial institutions that seem reluctant to support the agriculture sector.

It appears that foreign companies have faith and confidence in our farmers when our banks and other institutions that should support farming don’t appear keen to do so, if not actually working against efforts to achieve food self sufficiency. Shouldn’t it rather be local financial institutions putting in place measures to safeguard their money and extend assistance to the farmers?

The questions that begs an answer is: What is it that foreign firms have seen in our farmers that local banks cannot see? Obviously the culture of loan repayment needs to be seriously inculcated in our farmers, but that should be the reason for financial institutions to play a role in economic development.

Money invested in agriculture should not be viewed as money thrown down the drain, but rather as a stimulant of production and subsequently an engine for economic growth.

We cannot depend on foreign firms to drive our thrust of transforming the agriculture sector. It is our responsibility to do so using our own resources. Let the support from foreigners be a bonus. Our financial institutions must be at the forefront of supporting the farming sector. It is common cause that when agriculture catches a cold, the whole nation sneezes.

It is therefore in the interest of everyone to ensure agriculture works and that the vast tracts of land are turned into greenbelts of crops. That requires the financial institutions to start believing in the farmers, the same way foreigners believe in them.

We cannot continue on a path where money earned by farmers on the land finds its way into the pockets of foreigners who in turn export it to their countries while local institutions moan about cash shortages.

We cannot blame the foreign firms for doing so as that could have been avoided had our local firms been involved in supporting our farmers. We should have the earnings from farming circulating in the economy as opposed to using our land to prop up already developed economies.

We want to urge local financiers to start believing in our farmers and to put together financing packages for them.

You cannot have foreigners believing in our farmers’ capability when local institutions continue to nurse a grievance against the fast-track land reform. It simply means there is something seriously wrong with our institutions. What do they hope to prove, for whose benefit?

If foreign firms can avail agriculture funding to farmers based on mechanisms they have worked out to ensure that they would be repaid their money, then local banks need to relook at themselves and find out where they fall short. It’s time to view farmers as serious people worth doing business with.

We can only turn around the economy when we start believing in ourselves and stop being self-loathing spectators waiting for disaster to strike. We certainly can do better by having local financial institutions working with farmers rather imposing sanctions on the country and undermining food security.

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