Harare,– Government will relax its import ban on fertiliser at least for the next 24 months after it has emerged that demand for the input under its Command Agriculture programme has outstripped the capacity of local suppliers.
This was revealed by Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development minister Joseph Made this past week while giving oral evidence before parliament’s Peace and Security committee.
“Our biggest challenge is the top dressing fertiliser; we have to depend on imports.
“As the ministry of agriculture we are going to continue issuing fertiliser import license to both individual farmers and companies,” Made said.
Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 removed many food products and goods such as cooking oil and fertilisers from the import general licence ostensibly to protect local producers from competition brought by cheap imports.
For the 2016/2017 farming season, Command Agriculture requires compound D and top dressing fertilisers which amount to 68 000 metric tonnes and 57 000 metric tonnes respectively.
However, only 46 000 metric tonnes and 23 000 metric tonnes have been distributed to farmers under the programme.
Made said the sector will continue to depend on imports until industry has been capacitated.
He said the deficit was just for the command agriculture programme which seeks to produce over two million tonnes of maize. The programme is worth $500 million.
The minister added that they were not prepared to lose the expected output of 5000 metric tonnes because the supply of fertiliser was insufficient yearly.
Companies involved in importing fertilisers for the command agriculture will be issued with duty free certificates.
Asked by the chairperson of the committee why the programme was not started at a smaller scale to ensure that industry could supply the required quantities of inputs, Made said they wanted to take advantage of the rain.
“We then came to the decision that in case we had a good rainfall in addition to the good soils in some areas; generally speaking we would achieve good yields,” he said.
The minister assured the Senators that inputs from this programme would not end up on the black market because the government has put in place deterrent mechanisms.
Made said the few farmers caught on the wrong side of the law have been dealt with by law enforcement agents.