The Zimbabwean government would supply poor rural farmers with $161 million (R1.6 billion) of free seed and fertiliser to improve food security, it said yesterday, but the grants may be too late for farmers who need to start planting this month.
Zimbabwe was facing its worst food shortage in four years after a drought and poor harvest, the UN World Food Programme said last month.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said the government wanted to help 1.6 million farmers who were unable to afford the inputs.
The government expects to pay $21m this week to clear arrears to fertiliser and seed firms, as well as to farmers who supplied maize to the state-owned Grain Marketing Board.
“This is a demonstration of support to agriculture, which is the backbone of our economy,” said Chinamasa.
“It is unfortunate though that because of elections, which came late, and the formation of the new government, which came late, we were not able to go into this matter earlier.”
President Robert Mugabe won an overwhelming victory in the July 31 elections.
Made said Britain, the US and EU, which have criticised the election as flawed, had contributed to a $20m Food and Agriculture Organisation fund to buy agriculture inputs for 70 000 poor farmers.
However, with farmers already preparing land for planting at the end of the month, the aid may arrive too late.
Made also said stocks of fertiliser were very low, which could result in companies resorting on imports to meet demand, a process that could take at least two months to complete.